For the Rays' next couple of weeks, with seven games between the teams in 11 days and maybe seven more next month, it's going to be all about the Yankees — the players, fans, media, attitude, the Universe. They are the most — and arguably the first — significant September games they've faced each other in. The only other time the Rays were playing for something, in 2008, the Yankees were double-digit games out, and any other time the Yankees were just playing the Rays to get on to more important matters. But over the years, they've had some history:
There has been some drama (five Rays walkoff wins, plus Eduardo Perez's 2005 tying homer off Mariano Rivera), some calamity (Travis Harper's four-homer inning), some comedy (going 0-10 at Yankee Stadium in 2004) and plenty of emotion (several Lou Piniella tirades, one without pants).
But nothing like what happened in March 2008, when what began as a routine spring exhibition game evolved into a major and extended controversy that helped carry the Rays all the way to the World Series.
And to think it all started when Rays INF Elliot Johnson crashed into Yankees C Francisco Cervelli in the ninth inning. That led Yankees manager Joe Girardi to say the play was "uncalled for" and inappropriate, and the Rays' Joe Maddon to say essentially too bad, and the Yankees to retaliate a few days later and start a brawl that led to a series of fines and suspensions. And an attitude that helped redefine the Rays.
As much as things are different between the teams (in that the Yankees have tremendously more money, fans and tradition), there are some things they have in common, such as being in the AL East, and not liking the Red Sox.
But it's the common ground of Tampa that's most interesting.
The Yankees have their spring training, minor-league and offseason base of operations there. The Steinbrenners and some of their players have homes there — including Derek Jeter's largest-of-all (dubbed, interestingly, St. Jetersburg). A radio station carries their home games. Signs, billboards and certain politicians welcome, honor and fawn over them as if they were the home team there. And it's always amazing how many of their "fans" can find their way over the bridges to the Trop.
Take that, and that
The Yankees celebrated in front of the Rays in September 2007, clinching a postseason berth at the Trop. And the Rays basked in the glory of their 2008 success in front of the Yankees, holding their pennant-raising and ring ceremony before games with the Yankees.
Rays' record vs. Yankees, worst of any AL opponent.
And then there's Hank
There hasn't much yet from Yanks co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, aside from his Aug. 26 guarantee that the Yankees — "rest assured" — would make the playoffs, but based on 2008, just wait:
• After the spring brawl: "There are going to be problems, especially if they go after our stars. It's not going to be tolerated. We never have done it to them. It's just not going to happen anymore."
• Also: "I don't want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and that's the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets. I would prefer if teams want to target the Yankees that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back."
• And in July: "There's a lot of excitement around here from the Rays fans but almost to a point of arrogance. They better be careful. They'll learn this (expletive) can change real quick."
There are now about 20 players with iPads in the clubhouse, with Angry Birds and Wee Farm the most popular games. … Peter Gammons said on WEEI radio in Boston that he thinks LF Carl Crawford will get $140 million over seven years, and not from the Red Sox. And David Ortiz predicts Crawford is headed to the Yankees — "That's the team that's going to pay him," he told Foxsports.com — or Angels. … Joe Maddon was third on Jon Heyman's SI.com list of best managing jobs of the season. … Ex-Rays INF Akinori Iwamura is likely headed back to Japan after being released by the Pirates. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson was only the sixth to win both Baseball America and USA Today minor-league player of the year honors. … INF/OF Elliot Johnson, already MVP of the Durham team, got news-release treatment for signing with the Mexican winter league Mazatlan Venados. (And, yes, his wife, Nicole, wrote about it at baseballwifeblog.com)
Got a minute? Desmond Jennings
Best meal you can make? I can't cook. I can boil some hot dogs or make some eggs for breakfast.
Time killer at the mall? A sports store, like Foot Locker.
Late-night snack? Some ice cream — cookies and cream.
Karaoke song if you had to? The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song.
Dream date? (TV/movie actor) Stacey Dash