By Lenn Robbins
Before this series with AL East rival Tampa Bay began on Friday, there was an ominous feeling that bad blood was about to spill. The Yanks and Rays pitchers have hit opposing batters with consistency and malice that drew a warning from umpires just last Sunday after Jordan Montgomery plunked Austin Meadows with a 93-mph fastball.
“It happens basically every series with them, and it’s something that we’ve got to stop,” Meadows said after the game, “because being a hitter and having that in the back of your mind is not a good feeling.”
The Rays have found the perfect response. Instead of retaliating, why not just continue to help make the Yankees look like a second-rate baseball team? Such was the case Friday night after Brandon Lowe was drilled by Michael King in the second inning. All the Jays did was reap the rewards of bad Yankees baseball in an 8-2 win.
Montgomery took the mound Saturday afternoon. The Rays could have retaliated for last Sunday by why bother when beating the Yankees, 6-3, was not just rewarding, but routine? The Rays own the Yankees having won 17 of the last 22 games, including last year’s Division Series, by playing the kind of crisp baseball the Yankees have barely displayed of late.
After committing three errors in the 8-2 debacle, manager Aaron Boone addressed the Yankees. The result? The Yankees narrative Saturday was that they played a “crisper” game. True, the Yankees, were not charged with an error, although Gleyber Torres’ inability to come up with a throw from catcher Kyle Higashioka in the seventh led to a two-run home run and a 5-1 Tampa Bay lead.
That’s what the Yankees have been reduced to at this point, trying to play “crisper” ball and hoping to salvage the final game of a three-game set against the Rays for the second time in a week. About that 28th World Series quest?
“I felt like we were much more in the fight today, which is at least a good thing,” said Boone. “But we don’t want moral victories right now.”
No, the Yankees are not about moral victories although at 5-9 and on a season-long, four-game losing streak, they’ll take any win right now. Gerrit Cole takes the mound Sunday, giving the Yankees the best chance they have every fifth day.
They have proven to be a poor defensive team. They are feast or famine on offense, leaving so many runners on base it would be hard to practice social distancing. They were 1-0f-7 with runners in scoring position on Saturday dropping them to 20 for 90 (.222) on the season
“It really all comes down to, when you get punched, how do you get back up,” said Aaron Judge said. “Do you get back up and throw a punch, or does it take you a while?”
The Rays have showed us their response. There’s no need to throw at the Yankees, no need to retaliate for now. The Yankees aren’t a threat to anyone.
NOTES: Gary Sanchez was hit by a foul ball on his right throwing hand in the fourth. X-rays were negative and Sanchez is day-to-day. He will not be behind the plate Sunday as Higashioka usually catches Cole.