Yankees vs. Rays: Exploring recent episodes of bad blood

New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays benches clear on Aug 27, 2023, at Tropicana.
Sara Molnick
Monday August 28, 2023

Table of Contents

Long-standing animosity between the Yankees and Rays has already been present. This past Sunday, tensions reached a tipping point in Tampa Bay. The Rays staged a comeback during the middle innings against the Yankees’ bullpen, securing victory in the series finale, although not without a bench-clearing altercation.

As a Rays player was hit during the series opener at Tropicana Field on Friday night, concerns arose about the potential for unsavory events before their last encounter of the season on Sunday. In the Sunday game, three additional Rays players were struck, with one of them taking a hit to the head. These events culminated in two separate incidents of both benches clearing in the eighth inning.

The Yankees and Rays possess a lengthy track record of animosity, which resurfaced during the eighth inning on Sunday when Albert Abreu‘s initial pitch struck Randy Arozarena squarely in the ribs. This marked the fourth Tampa batter hit during the game and the sixth over the course of the three-game series. Unsurprisingly, Arozarena expressed his displeasure, leading to a clearing of the benches as he and Abreu engaged in a verbal exchange.

Abreu striking the prominent outfielder was a recurrence, having happened once before this season. This incident marked the fourth Rays player hit during the day and the twelfth such occurrence in the season’s thirteen games, in stark contrast to only two Yankees being hit.

After a considerable amount of shouting, calm was eventually reinstated, although Arozarena’s frustration remained palpable. Undeterred, he managed to steal both second and third bases consecutively. Subsequent to his second theft, Arozarena and Abreu exchanged words once more, prompting both benches and bullpens to rush toward the base paths.

Once more, tranquility was reinstated prior to any physical altercations.

Here is a summary of the recent animosity between the Yankees and the Rays.

Sept 4, 2022: Yankees’ Donaldson vs. Rays’ Armstrong

Tensions flared between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning at Tropicana Field. Rays pitcher Shawn Armstrong delivered a 3-0 pitch that sailed up near Josh Donaldson‘s chin, evoking a vigorous response from the Yankees’ third baseman.

Donaldson engaged in a verbal exchange with Armstrong while gesturing toward the pitcher’s mound, leading to both teams’ benches and bullpens clearing in an effort to defuse the situation.

Although it took a couple of minutes, the situation gradually settled without any ejections or physical altercations. Nevertheless, both teams received a warning from the officials.

Aug 8, 2020: Rays’ Kittredge, Castillo vs. Yankees’ LeMahieu, Urshela

Andrew Kittredge targeted Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu with inside pitches a few innings after Diego Castillo had also thrown an inside pitch at LeMahieu, causing him to take evasive action.

The Yankees refrained from responding with retaliatory throws, but they made their displeasure clear regarding the consistent high and tight pitches. Both manager Boone and Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames were ejected after disputes with the home plate umpire due to their belief that the inside pitches were deliberate, and no warnings had been given.

On the following day, Tampa’s second baseman Brandon Lowe characterized the Yankees as “childish” for their vocalizations from the dugout.

Sept 1, 2020: Yankees’ Chapman vs. Rays’ Brosseau

The intensifying Rays-Yankees rivalry, which has been escalating over the past three seasons, culminated in a fiery climax during the conclusion of New York’s 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium.

During the initial inning, Masahiro Tanaka struck Joey Wendle with a pitch that the Rays interpreted as a direct response to their own strategy of pitching aggressively inside against the Yankees throughout the season, notably targeting DJ LeMahieu. Just the day before, Diego Castillo had sent an inside pitch toward LeMahieu, sparking vocal reactions from the Yankees’ dugout.

In the ninth inning, Aroldis Chapman, who had only made his fourth appearance of the season due to starting the year on the COVID-19 injured list, delivered a blazing 101-mph fastball that narrowly missed Mike Brosseau’s head.

Chapman proceeded to strike out Brosseau, securing a victory for the Yankees. As Brosseau was heading back to the dugout, it appeared that words were exchanged from the Yankees’ side, prompting Brosseau to pivot and respond with shouts. This led to both benches clearing, although in the end, the situation didn’t escalate significantly.

From 2018 to 2020, Yankees pitchers struck Rays batters 19 times, a tally unmatched by their targeting of any other team’s hitters within that timeframe. In comparison, the Rays have connected with Yankees batters on 14 occasions since 2018, a number that falls short of the instances where Tampa Bay pitchers hit Red Sox players (17 times) or Blue Jays players (15 times).

July 16, 2019: Yankees’ Sabathia vs. Rays’ Garcia

Depending on whose account you consider, this could have been a case of misinterpretation instead of the feud being reignited. The Yankees and Rays were contending for the top position in the AL East last summer, with New York holding a five-game lead leading up to this match. Their competition intensified during a two-week period in July, featuring a series of eight highly charged games.

During the July 16th game, CC Sabathia fanned Rays outfielder Avisail Garcia, concluding the sixth inning with a remark as he left the field. This gesture provoked a reaction from Garcia, leading to a verbal exchange between the two. Television cameras captured Sabathia’s response, “If I was talking to you, I’d be talking to you.” Consequently, both teams’ dugouts emptied, and Sabathia had to be restrained by his fellow teammates.

Sabathia addressed reporters following the game, stating that he believed it was a misunderstanding. He clarified that he hadn’t been directing his comments at Garcia. Sabathia explained that he was simply shouting out to pump himself up, and although Garcia might have taken offense, he emphasized his unwavering determination and resolve.

Garcia, in response, shared that he hadn’t uttered any remarks. He expressed his respect for Sabathia as a formidable competitor and mentioned that he enjoyed facing him. Garcia underscored the absence of any animosity, explaining that both were focused on their respective roles and responsibilities.

Following the verbal exchange between Sabathia and Garcia, no ejections occurred, and the remainder of the game proceeded without any additional dramatic incidents.

May 17, 2019: Yankees’ Sabathia vs. Rays’ Meadows

Just six days before this match, Rays pitcher Yonny Chirinos allowed a home run to DJ LeMahieu and subsequently hit the following batter, Luke Voit, with a pitch. This sequence apparently prompted Sabathia to target Austin Meadows with an inside pitch on May 17 in what appeared to be a retaliatory move.

Speaking to reporters, Sabathia expressed his frustration with the situation, noting that hitting a home run often resulted in the opposing team throwing pitches high and inside. He referred to this pattern as “stupid.” Following his pitch at Meadows, television cameras captured Sabathia stating, as he left the field after the inning, that he had indeed aimed to hit Meadows.

Meadows shared that he didn’t attach much significance to the situation. However, upon reflection, he acknowledged that Sabathia’s intention to hit him became evident. He recognized Sabathia’s long-standing presence in the game and his competitive nature. Meadows accepted that the incident was a result of their ongoing back-and-forth dynamic, which he considered a regular part of the game. He noted his relief at not being hit and concluded by stating, “It is what it is.”

Sept. 28, 2018: Sabathia and Boone ejected

One of the standout Yankees vs. Rays moments in recent times occurred when the Yankees held a 7-0 lead during the fifth inning. CC Sabathia hit Jake Bauers in the hand with a pitch. In the subsequent half-inning, Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge’s opening pitch narrowly missed hitting Yankees backup catcher Austin Romine’s head. This incident stirred emotions in the Yankees’ dugout.

Speaking to reporters in the aftermath of the game, Boone expressed his frustration and concern about witnessing Romine being hit. He stated that his primary focus was ensuring Romine’s well-being.

In retaliation, Sabathia’s first pitch of the subsequent half-inning struck Rays backup catcher Jesus Sucre. Following this action, both Sabathia and Boone were promptly ejected. As Sabathia left the field, he directed his finger toward the Rays’ dugout, exclaiming, “That’s for you, bitch.” Sabathia later clarified that he was addressing the Rays as a whole and not an individual.

Kittredge didn’t shy away from addressing inquiries regarding the purpose behind his pitch to Romine. He remarked to reporters after the game, “It is what it is, I guess.” Subsequently, he received a three-game suspension. Sabathia, on the other hand, faced a five-game suspension for throwing at Sucre.

This particular game marked Sabathia’s final start of the regular season, and his contract featured a $500,000 bonus for achieving 155 innings pitched. Unfortunately, he was ejected with 153 innings under his belt. Given the game’s score (11-0 at the time of ejection) and Sabathia’s pitch count (55), there appeared to be a strong likelihood that he would have completed the two innings necessary to earn the bonus.

It’s worth mentioning that the Yankees went ahead and paid Sabathia the $500,000 bonus. In December, Yankees GM Brian Cashman mentioned to the Associated Press that it was something they had done privately without seeking publicity, and he chose to leave it at that.

May 20, 2017: Yankees’ Aaron Judge vs. Rays’ Andriese

Starting at this point appears to be quite convenient. The present core of the Yankees came to the forefront in 2017, marked by Aaron Judge‘s remarkable rookie season and Gary Sanchez’s inaugural full year in the major leagues. Despite the initial intention for it to be a rebuilding year in New York, it concluded with their progression to Game 7 of the ALCS.

Trailing 6-3 on May 20th, in the fifth inning, the Yankees witnessed Sanchez’s solo home run to center field, shortly followed by Rays’ pitcher Matt Andriese hitting the subsequent batter, Matt Holliday, with a pitch. As the game progressed, in the bottom of the fifth, Yankees reliever Tommy Layne retaliated by hitting Corey Dickerson, who had previously homered off Masahiro Tanaka twice during the game.

In response, Andriese started the top of the sixth inning by hitting Judge with his initial pitch, a move that led to his ejection from the game. This incident also triggered the ejections of Yankees manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, both of whom were visibly agitated.

Judge told after the game that it was simply a matter of baseball. He acknowledged that opponents would inevitably hit players, and in this instance, he was the one who was hit, which he considered a normal aspect of the game. He conveyed that he was prepared to accept the hit and take his base, viewing it as an inherent part of the game. He recounted saying, “Alright, remove my guard and head to first.” He concluded by remarking that the location of the hit was favorable.

March 12, 2008: The spring brawl

Convening just a few days subsequent to New York manager Joe Girardi expressing his concerns about Tampa Bay’s assertive approach during spring training, especially after one of his players got injured in a home-plate collision, the Yankees carried their own determined demeanor into a tense rematch.

A bench-clearing altercation erupted during the second inning of Tampa Bay’s 7-6 victory, sparked by Shelley Duncan‘s aggressive slide into second base with his spikes elevated. This incident led to the ejection of two players and two coaches.

Duncan, who had alluded to the possibility of responding to the incident involving the Rays’ Elliot Johnson colliding with New York catcher Francisco Cervelli the previous Saturday, executed a forceful slide into second baseman Akinori Iwamura’s right thigh, resulting in his swift ejection.

Furthermore, Tampa Bay’s Jonny Gomes was also thrown out of the game. He rushed in from right field and collided with Duncan as the field saw an influx of players.

Of the New York players, Duncan stood out as the most outspoken in his condemnation of the collision that resulted in Cervelli’s right wrist being fractured. This injury sidelined the Yankees prospect for a period of eight to ten weeks and initiated a discourse about the boundaries of fair play during spring training.

Additionally, Yankees’ third-base coach Bobby Meacham and hitting coach Kevin Long were expelled from the game by the umpires. In the opening inning, New York’s left-hander Heath Phillips was ejected as well, as his pitch seemed to barely graze Evan Longoria’s shirt.

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