Rays manager Kevin Cash was given a one-game suspension, and I’m okay with that.
I’m okay with his overt threat to the Yankees because a manager must defend his players, and I’m okay that Major League Baseball decided that type of threat cannot be tolerated because the situation had grown too dangerous. Honestly, I thought he would be punished more severely.
Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman was given a three-game suspension, and I’m okay with that, too.
It’s one thing to pitch up-and-in for effectiveness, it’s another thing to throw at a hitter’s torso to send a message, and it’s an entirely different world to throw a 101-mph fastball at someone’s head. I was hopeful Chapman would get the same eight-game suspension Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly got earlier this season but three will have to suffice.
Finally, Yankees manager Aaron Boone got a one-game suspension and that is absolutely justified, even though he kept his mouth shut Tuesday night.
This bad blood between Tampa Bay and New York may have been hastened by the Rays two years ago, but the Yankees have since acted like testosterone-fueled frat boys. And that’s on Boone. As well as third base coach Phil Nevin, who has a history of being less than level-headed.
First, let’s review what happened Tuesday night. Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, who has impeccable control, threw a pitch near Joey Wendle’s legs with two outs and nobody on in the first inning. On his next pitch, he drilled Wendle in the side with a 95-mph fastball, the hardest pitch he threw all night.
Was this retaliation for the Rays throwing up-and-in on D.J. LeMahieu the night before? Probably. Was it handled the right way by Tanaka? If you believe in old-school baseball justice then, yes, that was a proper response. And Cash seemed to say as much. So did Rays pitchers who did not try to hit any Yankees.
Then in the ninth inning, Chapman threw a 95-mph pitch high-and-tight on Wendle. He followed with a 99-mph pitch up-and-in on Austin Meadows. The Rays took these message pitches without complaint.
But with two outs and nobody on, Chapman uncorked a 101-mph pitch directly at the head of Mike Brosseau. The Rays infielder barely eluded the baseball as Chapman walked off the mound toward the plate.
The umpires huddled, decided to warn both benches, then automatically ejected Cash when he came out of the dugout to protest. Chapman eventually struck out Brosseau to end the game.
Brousseau was heading to the dugout when he clearly heard shouting from the Yankees side — centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier specifically singled out Nevin for chirping — and turned to say something himself. The benches emptied, but the confrontation ended quickly.
Then Cash unloaded in his postgame news conference.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “It was mishandled by the Yankees. Certainly, the pitcher on the mound. It was mishandled by the umpires. They hit Joey Wendle intentionally in the first inning. It was clear as day. Chapman comes in, he throws three different balls up and in. I get it — they don’t like being thrown up-and-in. But enough’s enough. We’re talking about a 100-mph fastball over a young man’s head.
“It’s poor judgment. Poor coaching. It’s just poor teaching, what they’re doing, and what they’re allowing to do. The chirping from the dugout.”
Had he stopped there, Cash would have been on solid ground. What followed was inflammatory, but also seemed purposeful to draw the league’s attention.
“And the last thing I’ll say on it is I’ve got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph. Period.”
You could argue Cash’s intent was understandable in a mutually-assured-destruction kind of way, but threatening a beanball war is never advisable, even if it was only a preemptive strike.
So how did we get here? The story is long and somewhat silly.
In September of 2018, the Rays hit Yankees with pitches in the first, second and third games of a series. The Yankees hit Rays in the second, third and fourth games of the series. After C.C. Sabathia hit Jake Bauers in that fourth game — the third of four Rays he hit with a pitch that season — Tampa Bay’s Andrew Kittredge threw near the head of Austin Romine.
It was a dangerous pitch and never should have been thrown. Kittredge was justifiably fined and suspended three games by the league. Sabathia, however, did not wait for official justice, and hit Jesus Sucre in the thigh later in the game. He was ejected, then pointed at the Rays dugout and shouted “That’s for you, b---h,” as he was leaving the field.
It could have ended there. It should have ended there.
Except the Yankees have continued to complain. And they seem to think every inside pitch is an affront to their glory.
The teams also exchanged taunts at Tropicana Field last month that stemmed from Nevin’s constant chirping. Every time a Rays pitcher got in trouble and was visited on the mound, Nevin could be heard shouting something to the effect of, “Get him out of there.”
When Yankees pitcher James Paxton gave up back-to-back home runs to tie the score in the seventh, it appeared Mike Zunino offered his own version of “Get him out of there” from the Rays dugout. The Yankees were not pleased.
Yet, from the time Sabathia walked off the mound in 2018, this has had the appearance of a one-sided feud.
Once again, there is a huge difference between pitching inside and headhunting. And there has been no indication that the Rays have tried to hit or hurt anyone in two years.
In fact, the Yankees have hit Rays batters 19 times since 2018. The Rays have hit 14 Yankees.
Still, the Rays are not choirboys in this episode, beginning with Kittredge’s pitch two years ago. But Tampa Bay took its punishment from Sabathia and MLB and seemed to move on.
As evidenced by Chapman Tuesday night, the Yankees have not.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.