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Mudville: June 23, 2024 8:46 am PDT

Everyone thought the Yankees rivalry with the Astros was going to be on fire in 2020. The schedule never allowed that to happen.

Turns out the Rays dominance of the Yankees has brought their AL East rivalry to new heights and if the teams meet again in October this will be special.

First things first, kudos to Rays manager Kevin Cash who called out Aaron Boone and the Yankees on Tuesday night after an Aroldis Chapman 101-mph missile went behind the head of the Rays Mike Brosseau.

That was bush league. Such a pitch could have done terrible damage.

Chapman nailed a right-handed batter in the hip on Saturday when he hit the Mets J.D. Davis with a 98-mph fastball.

The Yankees can deny or play dumb on the pitch to Brosseau but on Friday night when Chapman pitched against the Mets the right-handed hitting Amed Rosario drilled a two-run walk-off home run off a Chapman slider at Yankee Stadium.

It was a walk-off because the Mets were the home team in that second game of a doubleheader.

Chapman’s last game of 2019, back when fans were in the ballpark, his slider was hit out of the park by the right-handed hitting Jose Altuve.

That was a walk-off as well. It walked the Yankees right out of the ALCS.

That was only Chapman’s second appearance of the year because he was on the Covid shelf.

Chapman straddled the mound in disbelief as Altuve circled the bases at Minute Maid Park. Sure he might have been thinking,

Altuve knew that slider was coming, but he also may have been thinking, I am knocking right-handed hitters off the plate in 2020.

To recap, in Chapman’s last pitch of 2019 a right-handed hitter took him deep, ending the ALCS.

In Chapman’s second appearance of 2020 a right-handed batter took Chapman deep, and he suffered the indignity of being walked off in his own ballpark by the cross-town rival Mets.

Two walk-off home runs allowed by Chapman in three appearances.

Then all of a sudden in his next appearance a 98-mph fastball blows up into the left hip of Davis.


Funny how that happens.

New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays exchanges words after the final out in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium on September 01, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Then in appearance No. 4 of the season the left-handed Chapman unleashes a 101-mph fastball at the head of another right-handed batter from the Yankees chief rival the Rays.

Considering all that, considering how Chapman was walked off first by the Astros and then by the Mets, you still think hitting Davis and buzzing Brousseau’s head just happened to happen?

Come on.

There are no coincidences from 60 feet six inches in the major leagues.

Chapman also went up and in on several Rays left-handed hitters before his dangerous pitch to Brosseau, who, after the game, a 5-3 Yankees victory, still looked a little unnerved in a Zoom call with reporters.

Who can blame him?

Connecting the dots is what we do here at BallNine. We look at the big picture and it is clear Chapman was not happy delivering walk-offs to opponents.

He knows down the October road he has a good chance of facing the Rays in another such tight situation.

Aroldis Chapman #54 of the New York Yankees exchanges words with the Tampa Bay Rays after the final out in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium on September 01, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Call it a Missile Message.

So while everyone else points to the bad blood between the Rays and Yankees, and that bad blood is getting thicker by the day, this incident says as much about Chapman as anyone.

It also says something about the Yankees.

Remember, veteran pitching coach Larry Rothschild is in San Diego this year living Padres life.

Matt Blake is the Yankees first-year pitching coach.

The Rays fired their pitch at the head of Yankees catcher Austin Romine three years ago.

So there is history on both sides but you can be sure that Kevin Cash grew more and more agitated with each up-and-in pitch that Chapman fired on Tuesday night.

One MLB pitching expert had one word for Chapman’s pitch at Brosseau’s head.

“Disgusting,’’ he told BallNine.

That’s about right and that is how Cash was after the game when he said these words.

“This was mishandled by the Yankees, certainly by the pitcher on the mound, it was mishandled by the umpires,’’ Cash fumed. “They hit Joey Wendle ntentionally in the first inning, it was as clear as day. Chapman comes in and throws three different balls up and in.”

“I get it, they don’t like being thrown up and in but enough is enough. We’re talking about a 100-mph fastball over a young man’s head.

It makes no sense. It’s poor judgement, poor coaching, it is just poor teaching what they’re doing and what they are allowing to do.

The chirping from the dugout … I can assure you other than three years ago there hasn’t been one pitch thrown with intent from any of our guys. Period.”

“Somebody has got to be accountable and the last thing I will say on it is I got a whole damn stable full of guys who throw 98 miles per hour. Period.’’

That’s a big statement.

As baseball rants go, that was top shelf. Cash is well respected in the baseball community and he was speaking from his heart defending his players and that is what brings a team together.

The Rays attempted to pitch DJ LeMahieu inside this series because LeMahieu is a hitting machine when he can extend his arms over the plate.

That played a part in the antics but Wendle took his medicine and went to first base after Masahiro Tanaka, who has pinpoint control, nailed him in the side with a 95-mph fastball, his fastest of the night.

That pitch was nowhere near Wendle’s head. It was a purpose pitch and the purpose was completed.

Until Chapman started firing rockets in the direction of the Rays hitters in the ninth.

Again, this was Chapman’s first appearance against the Rays this season. He looked to be sending a message.

Two walk-offs in three appearances had left their mark.

Clearly the Rays have gotten under the Yankees skin.

There are only 60 games this season and the Yankees played 10 against the Rays, who have owned them. 

These Rays simply have the Yankees number.

They find different ways to score runs, their defense is better than the Yankees defense and unlike the Yankees who wear out their best relievers, the Rays use their entire bullpen to their advantage. Both teams have had injury issues so no excuses,Yankee fans.

We will see what October brings but the Yankees and Rays are headed for the Bad Blood Showdown.

Chapman, after the game, did not make a Zoom appearance with reporters. No surprise there.

He zoomed out of Yankee Stadium without bothering to talk to reporters.

Reporters are not allowed anywhere near the clubhouses this season so it is much easier for players to hide, even 6-4, muscle-bound behemoths.

The next day Chapman said, “I had no intention of hitting anyone.’’ 

Aroldis Chapman #54 and Kyle Higashioka #66 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 at Yankee Stadium on September 01, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Because Brosseau ducked.

The next day, Brosseau homered in his first at-bat and the Rays dugout went wild. Another message sent.

Chapman had something to think about other than two walk-offs in three appearances, one ends the postseason, the other ends a game at your own ballpark – something that has never happened before in that manner -and then two right-handed batters basically get messages, one in the hip and one nearly in the head.

Like I said earlier, there are no coincidences from 60 feet six inches.

Evidently, MLB agreed and Chapman was suspended three games for that pitch at Brosseau’s head.

Chapman is appealing the suspension. He said he is having trouble with command of his fastball but those are big misses against right-handed hitters from a lefty.

Acting manager Carlos Mendoza #64 of the New York Yankees talks with the umpire after Ben Heller #61 hit Hunter Renfroe #11 of the Tampa Bay Rays (not pictured) with a pitch during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on September 02, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Cash & Boone, which sounds like a British detective series on Masterpiece Theater, were each suspended a game.

The Rays, who I have found through the years to be one of the most honest teams around when it comes to interviews, got right to the heart of the matter.

Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said this about the situation after Brosseau struck out to end the game and then the squabbling as two teams came together. “Once again it’s the same people chirping and trying to stir the pot.’’

That chirping issue is becoming the Yankees reputation around baseball.

They are always chirping, it seems, if not at the umpires then at the opposing team and with no fans in the stands that chirping is not being drowned out by normal ballpark noises and opponents hear it.

It’s so quiet you can hear a trash can being banged.

“It’s a tired act, a couple of their guys over there are just non-stop,’’ Kiermaier said.

Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin has been known to get under the skin of opponents but that’s part of the game too. In a refreshing way, the Yankees and Rays are going at it like old time opponents and it is not just another night around the MLB campfire with players praising one another, exchanging stories about their agents, roasting marshmallows and singing Kumbaya.

That part is good for the game.

You just don’t want to see any player take a fastball to the head. Back on August 16, 1920 the Indians Ray Chapman took a pitch to the head and died early the next morning. The late afternoon pitch was thrown by the Yankees Carl Mays.

This was long before batting helmets and Chapman is only player to have been killed in a game, but there are plenty of cases of beanballs doing disastrous damage.

What I found particularly interesting about Cash’s call-out was calling out fellow manager Boone and the Yankees coaching staff.

That doesn’t happen often but it is an indication that this is a Rays New World.

The Rays have had their success against the Yankees before but always as the Little Engine That Could.

This 2020 version of the Rays believe in a much different way. And don’t forget, because everything seems to go back to the cheating Astros, the Rays feel cheated too coming into this season.

They have a chip on their shoulders.

The Rays won their two games at the Trop in the 2019 ALDS against the Astros and lost all three games at Minute Maid Park, including the decisive fifth game when somehow the Astros scored four runs off Taylor Glasnow in the first inning.

At the time there was the thought Glasnow was tipping his pitches but that was always the story in Houston.

Someone’s tipping pitches. Electronic sign stealing? Oh, no.

And because of the division and regional based schedule this season the Yankees and the Rays don’t get the chance to take it out on the Astros in the 60-game season so they have to take it out on each other and that has created a bitter rivalry.

Interesting to note Glasnow lost two games in that series, both at Minute Maid Park and both to Gerrit Cole.

Cole came to the Yankees for $324 million, numbers the Rays can never dream about paying.

The Rays beat Cole 5-3 in the first game of this series, drilling two home runs.

These Rays are not going to take it anymore.

Michael Brosseau #43 of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 02, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

“They don’t like us, we don’t like them,’’ Kiermaier said. “It’s going to be easy for emotions to get  people voicing their opinions. It’s part of the game, always has been always will. Over the years we’ve both kind of gone back and forth with hitting guys, some with intent, some not. But I think this year we have their number and we play very well against them. We beat them time and time again and maybe that frustrates them.’’

Clearly the Yankees have been frustrated by the Rays and another season where Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are out with leg injuries.

The Yankees and Red Sox was the best rivalry in baseball.

The Rays have stepped up in class and now this is a spirited rivalry that will continue to have nasty moments.

Rays up.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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