By Lenn Robbins
For a franchise that has never won a World Series, heck, only played for the championship once, this 2020 Tampa Bay team sure is damn cocky.
Which makes this the perfect time for the Yankees, winners of 27 more World Series titles than the team that plays in a city known as a destination for snowbirds and gentlemen’s clubs, to face the Rays for the first time in the postseason.
The Rays dominated the regular season series having won 8-of-10 but the teams have never met in October. The playoffs, as we know, is a very different animal. Just ask the Cleveland Indians, who got whacked by the slumping Yankees to the tune of 22 runs.
October baseball is in the Yankees DNA. This is Tampa’s fifth trip to the postseason. It’s no time to be cocky. Confident? Sure. Cocky? No. And man, are they cocky.
“When we beat the Yankees, we party definitely harder after the game celebrating a good win,’’ Rays ace Blake Snell said earlier this season.
Good for them! Nothing like beating your rivals unless, of course, the other team considers you their rival. And the Yankees don’t. They might be irked that the Rays won the season series and the AL East title but this entire season has been an anomaly.
Would the Rays have held off the Yankees if this was a full season? We’ll never know. We do know Yankees have their rival in the Boston Red Sox. The Rays? Not so much until recently.
The Yanks and Rays developed a real animus over the last two seasons, culminating in 2020 with a benches-clearing verbal scuffle and pitchers that went body hunting if not head hunting. The crescendo came on September 1, when Aroldis Chapman fired a 101-mph pitch that barely missed the head of Mike Brosseau. The Rays had thrown at DJ LeMahieu the day before and Masahiro Tanaka had plunked Joey Wendle before Chapman threw head heat.
Rays manager Kevin Cash was livid after the game and issued a threat.
“I have a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph,” he said.
Which brings us to Monday when the Yankees and Rays begin their best-of-five ALDS series in San Diego. This is the most emotional series the Rays have played since 2008 when they lost their lone World Series appearance to the Phillies. For the Yankees, this is just the next playoff series.
You’ve got to empathize with the South Florida franchise and their fans. They’ve spent a lifetime looking up at the big-spending, big city team clad in in their iconic pinstripes and clean-shaven faces.
The Yankees, of course, own their own TV network (YES) for which they paid $3.47 billion. The Rays have a nice regional deal with Fox Sports for $82 million per season.
Aaron Judge had the 2nd most purchased jersey in the MLB this season after spending three seasons at No.1. The Rays don’t have a player in the Top 20 despite having the second-best record in baseball.
The Yankees have an MLB-high payroll of $109 million in this pandemic-shortened season. The Rays had the third lowest at $28 million. In other words, the Yankees are the one-percent of MLB. The Rays need accountants that can find every deduction.
“We know they have the money to get the best guys in the world,’’ said Snell.
So when the Rays beat up the Yankees this season, it went to their mouths.
“There’s some teams that you just get a little bit of greater satisfaction from, and I think that’s very safe to say,” Kiermaier said earlier this season.
The ultimate satisfaction for the Rays would be to end the Yankees season. It’s also the perfect time for the Yankees to film the “The Silence of the Rays.”