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Rays riling up the Yankees? This is fun!

This just in: The Yankees are angry. Also, the Yankees are vexed. And furthermore, the Yankees are positively perturbed.

And to that, there is this suggested response:

Cool.

This is delicious. This is marvelous. Someone is angry at the Rays, and finally, it isn't a player who has just been traded to the team! At long last, the Rays have graduated into becoming a pain in another team's posterior.

Bully for the Rays, and bully for the bullies they seem to have become.

During the past decade, the mere mention of the Rays has evoked a lot of responses from opponents. Pity. Scorn. Disdain. Bemusement. Maybe, if things fell just right, minor annoyance.

But anger? The Rays were never good enough to cause anger. In 10 years, the only opponent they have driven crazy is Curt Schilling, and that's only because Schilling lives in the neighborhood anyway.

For the most part, the Rays always have been beneath contempt, beneath notice, beneath even the Orioles. They have never been the kind of club to knock someone down. They were more like the team that other teams occasionally tripped over.

All of which is why it is simply marvelous that the Rays have managed to boil the blood of Joe Girardi, the Yankee manager and a potential candidate for the vacant office of Marquis of Queensbury.

Girardi is mad at the Rays for, get this, playing too hard. He is irked because the Rays are too darned aggressive. He is miffed that Rays manager Joe Maddon just won't play nice.

This column will now pause so you can point in the general direction of Legends Field and giggle.

This is grand stuff. If nothing else, Joe vs. Joe has livened up the middle of a spring training where the Rays' major question seems to be whether Juan Salas' arm will show up before Rocco Baldelli's legs. At this point, I would be tempted to turn things over to the promotions department for Block the Plate night, except that you would have to cancel another event, perhaps even Chuck LaMar Appreciation Night.

Girardi, as you probably have heard, is in a snit because a prospect named Elliot Johnson, who isn't going to make the Rays, ran over catcher Francisco Cervelli, who isn't going to make the Yankees. Why? Well, because home plate is where the runs are, and Cervelli was in the way.

It's as simple as that. If a game is big enough for the catcher to block the plate, isn't it big enough for the baserunner to knock him away from it?

Really, what was Johnson supposed to do? Show up with a bottle of wine and a long-stemmed rose? Genuflect over the glory of the Yankees' past? Surrender the play and allow himself to be tagged out?

Or, perhaps, was he supposed to play baseball?

Former catchers — and Girardi and Maddon qualify — should know this better than anyone: The price of blocking the plate is pain. If a man doesn't want to get run over, he should get out of the highway. Cervelli was tough enough to stand there and take the punishment. Johnson was tough enough to go like a fullback at the goal line. Good for them both.

Yes, it is spring training. But if you take away all the hazardous plays in baseball, what you are left with is something called "batting practice."

Tell me this: Is Girardi going to fax over a sheet of proposed rule changes for Wednesday's game? Should pitchers not be allowed to pitch inside? Should runners not slide hard into second to break up a double play? Should outfielders even bother to throw home, lest it lead to someone bumping into someone else?

And this is the big question: After the past 10 years, does Girardi really think Maddon should tell his players to take it easy?

After years of watching the Rays hardly play, it's difficult to criticize them for playing hard. Ask yourself this: Can you imagine Ben Grieve running over the catcher in a spring game? Can you imagine it mattering that much to Vinny Castilla? Of course not. And that's the point. Perhaps it is about time the Rays ticked off someone by refusing to let up.

"If the Yankees want to worry about us, that's great," Rays pitcher James Shields said. "I'm glad they're worrying about us. They haven't worried about us in a long time."

Again, this is a good thing. On the way to getting better, teams often rub opponents the wrong way. Have you checked the Yankee fan sites the past couple of days? There seem to be a lot of New Yorkers who are treating the Rays with the same sort of outrage they usually reserve for the Red Sox or the Mets or, especially, Alex Rodriguez.

All of the sudden, other teams are grumbling about the Rays. All of the sudden, they are the ruffians. All of the sudden, they are the Ray-ders.

Think about it: After a decade of the Rays being run over, someone else is complaining that it finally has happened the other way around.

For the Rays, it should sound like music.

Rays riling up the Yankees? This is fun! 03/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 1:44pm]
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