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Rays, Yankees bring plenty of baggage into playoffs

Chirp, chirp. These two teams have been going at each other, physically and verbally, for years.
The Rays' Elliot Johnson collides with Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli during the ninth inning of a spring training game.
The Rays' Elliot Johnson collides with Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli during the ninth inning of a spring training game. [ Times (2008) ]
Published Oct. 3, 2020

The Rays and Yankees are meeting for the first time in the playoffs, which some say is when real history is made. But these teams — and fans, thanks to the Tampa turf war — bring plenty of baggage into the American League Division Series. A sampling of “highlights” from their shared past:

2004: Hurricane relief

Though he preferred a Tampa stadium site, Yankees boss George Steinbrenner was quite complimentary when the Devil Rays franchise was awarded in 1995 to his adopted hometown area. Once the Rays started competing with his Yankees, those feelings changed and he delighted in beating them, even in spring training. That especially showed in 2004 when the Rays, after spending a weekend at home riding out Hurricane Frances (two home games were canceled), were delayed flying to New York the day of a scheduled doubleheader and missed Game 1. The Yankees requested that MLB declare a forfeit, accusing Rays officials of lying about their travel plans. The forfeit was denied as the Rays made it by 6:05 p.m. and started play at 7:02, with the other game made up later in the week.

2007: Going batty

Umpire Doug Eddings confiscates the bat of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Akinori Iwamura during the second inning of baseball action against the New York Yankees Sept. 1, 2007, at Yankee Stadium.
Umpire Doug Eddings confiscates the bat of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Akinori Iwamura during the second inning of baseball action against the New York Yankees Sept. 1, 2007, at Yankee Stadium. [ FRANK FRANKLIN II | Associated Press (2007) ]

Matchups with the Yankees have included some gamesmanship. In September 2007, New York manager Joe Torre requested that umps check a bat being using by Rays infielder Akinori Iwamura, the same one he had used in 13 prior games against them. But the second-inning delay was effective, allowing Yankees rookie starter Ian Kennedy to settle down. “A very opportune time to spring it,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who retaliated by having Alex Rodriguez’s bat confiscated.

2008: A message at home, and two replies

This spring training collision between the Rays' Elliot Johnson  Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli left the latter with a fractured wrist.
This spring training collision between the Rays' Elliot Johnson Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli left the latter with a fractured wrist. [ Times (2008) ]

Having been beaten, and beaten up, by the Yankees over their first 10 seasons, the Rays announced in spring 2008 they would no longer be bullied. Elliot Johnson, then a 23-year-old minor-leaguer, was the unlikely messenger. Taking Maddon’s mantra to play as hard in March as in July and October, Johnson raced home on a ninth-inning play, lowered his shoulder and crashed into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, fracturing his right wrist.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi objected, saying he didn’t “understand” the Rays' methods and that such play was “uncalled for” in spring games. Maddon clapped back — “I never read that rule” — and praised the effort: “We play it hard and we play it right every day.”

The Yankees' Shelley Duncan slides into second base and kicks 
Akinori Iwamura.  Duncan was ejected and both benches cleared.
The Yankees' Shelley Duncan slides into second base and kicks Akinori Iwamura. Duncan was ejected and both benches cleared. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2008) ]

Johnson ended up on the back page of three New York tabloids. The Yankees threatened revenge, then got it when the teams met in St. Petersburg four days later. But the Rays again had the last word. Yankee Shelley Duncan slid with spikes extraordinarily high into Iwamura’s right leg, leaving behind a bloody gash in a move Maddon later called “dirty” and “borderline criminal.” Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes protected Iwamura his own way, racing in to shove Duncan as the benches emptied: “I probably could have done a lot of things worse.” Gomes and Duncan were suspended, along with Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera, who during the melee punched top Rays prospect Evan Longoria in the head.

2010: “Derek Cheater”

Derek Jeter heads to first after a hit by pitch call as Joe Maddon argues with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale and Chad Qualls looks on in the seventh inning.
Derek Jeter heads to first after a hit by pitch call as Joe Maddon argues with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale and Chad Qualls looks on in the seventh inning. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2008) ]

Yankees legend Derek Jeter often put on a good show against the Rays, including homering off David Price for his 3,000th hit. But his actions in a September 2010 game at the Trop were somewhat annoying as the Rays accused, and he later acknowledged, that he was acting when claiming to be hit by a Chad Qualls pitch. “There are several thespians throughout Major League Baseball,” Maddon said. “Derek did a great job, and I applaud him.” A national discussion ensued about Jeter being a cheater; the Rays got the bigger prize, edging the Yankees on the final day of the season to win the AL East.

2011: Did you get a selfie a least?

Evan Longoria's walkoff homer in Game 162 of the 2011 season was his signature moment.
Evan Longoria's walkoff homer in Game 162 of the 2011 season was his signature moment. [ Times photo (2011) ]

Focused on playoffs prep, the Yankees ended up pulling key players throughout the game in the historic final day of the 2011 season. They blew a 7-0 eighth-inning lead that allowed Dan Johnson to hit the dramatic down-to-their-last-strike tying homer. Then Evan Longoria had the 12th-inning walkoff shot for the Game 162 win that sent the Rays into the playoffs ahead of the Red Sox on what many call baseball’s greatest day.

2018: Sabathia has his say, and more

Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia has words for the Rays after pitcher Andrew Kittredge threw a pitch behind a Yankees batter.
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia has words for the Rays after pitcher Andrew Kittredge threw a pitch behind a Yankees batter. [ Times (2018) ]

CC Sabathia already was a large presence for the Yankees on the mound, and he became the leading man in protesting the Rays' pitching their hitters too inside too often, starting in 2017. He took action into his own left hand in a September 2018 game, hitting Rays catcher Jesus Sucre. Earlier in the game, Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge threw up and behind Austin Romine in poorly-executed retaliation for earlier Yankee actions.

When ejected, Sabathia, who seemingly lost a $500,000 innings bonus the Yankees paid anyway, pointed to the Rays dugout and said, “That’s for you, b---h!,” grabbing his crotch as he headed off the field. He stayed mad, caught on video in 2019 saying he was trying to hit Austin Meadows.

2019: How did you really feel, Aaron?

Aaron Boone, right, points and yells at home plate umpire Brennan Miller during a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays. Boone had already been ejected when he expressed his displeasure with the umpire's calls.
Aaron Boone, right, points and yells at home plate umpire Brennan Miller during a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays. Boone had already been ejected when he expressed his displeasure with the umpire's calls. [ KATHY WILLENS | AP ]

The Rays were guests for several key Yankees moments: A ceremony following Steinbrenner’s death, Jeter’s 3,000th, final home games for Mariano Rivera and Rodriguez. Three days after Travis d’Arnaud’s third homer fueled a huge comeback win, the Rays were party to another: Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s epic expletive-laced rant at rookie umpire Brennan Miller. Enter into the lexicon, and the T-shirt industry, “savages in that box” (a reference to his hitters). Boone was upset with the calls Rays starter Yonny Chirinos was getting and, in more colorful terms, told Miller he wasn’t doing well, he felt sorry for him, Chirinos “is a good pitcher” ... then the infamous phrase was born.

2020: “Childish” actions, “poor” judgement, a stable

Members of the Rays and Yankees exchange words after the Rays' 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium. Both teams' benches received warnings from the umpires after Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman threw near the head of pinch-hitter Michael Brosseau during the ninth inning.
Members of the Rays and Yankees exchange words after the Rays' 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium. Both teams' benches received warnings from the umpires after Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman threw near the head of pinch-hitter Michael Brosseau during the ninth inning. [ KATHY WILLENS | AP ]

The Yankees often complain about the Rays pitching inside, and their constant dugout chirping in the first series this season was annoying. Brandon Lowe said after a walkoff win that their actions were “a little childish.” The Rays swept the second series, noting Yankee Stadium wasn’t as intimidating without fans. Emotions flared the third time they met in 3½ weeks, especially when Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw a 100-mph pitch at the head of Mike Brosseau.

Rays manager Kevin Cash responded with a stinging soliloquy, criticizing the Yankees' “poor” judgement, coaching and teaching, delivering the now classic line — which also sparked a series of T-shirts (including some his pitchers are wearing) — of having “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour.” Several Rays said they’d never been angrier, and they got some revenge the next night, as Brosseau hit two homers in an emotional win that concluded an 8-2 season series.

Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier seemed to sum it up best on Friday when he said" “They don’t like us, we don’t like them, and it’s going to continue to stay that way.”