The disdain the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees share for each other is hardly a secret, and after some hostile moments in the regular season, the stakes are significantly higher.
The Yankees and Rays meet in the postseason for the first time when the American League East rivals open the best-of-five AL Division Series in San Diego on Monday.
The Rays attained the top seed by posting the league’s best record and winning the division by seven games over the Yankees, whom they openly expressed pleasure in beating.
Heading into the first postseason series between the teams, Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell said the Rays enjoy wins over the Yankees a little more, sentiments that were echoed by Kevin Kiermaier, who has been in Tampa Bay’s outfield since 2014.
“It will just be another reason, another notch in the belt or chip on your shoulder, whatever you want, just to make it that much sweeter to try to beat those guys,” Kiermaier said Friday. “And when you do it, it feels that much better.”
Tampa Bay claimed its third division title by winning eight of 10 meetings with New York. The Yankees were outscored 47-34 by Tampa Bay, though Aaron Judge missed the final six games due to a left calf strain, Giancarlo Stanton sat for the final seven meetings with a hamstring injury, and DJ LeMahieu missed three games with a sprained thumb.
Tensions boiled over in the ninth inning of New York’s 5-3 win on Sept. 1 at Yankee Stadium. In that game, closer Aroldis Chapman threw a 101 mph fastball up and in at infielder Michael Brosseau’s head, nearly prompting a benches-clearing incident.
“I truly think whatever has happened up to this point might matter very little,” Kiermaier said. “When we go out there and step in between the white lines, it’s not like we’re going to sit here and think back about everything that went on three, four weeks ago.”
While no actual punches were thrown then, plenty of verbal shots came from Tampa Bay, notably from manager Kevin Cash, who appeared to threaten the Yankees by saying: “I’ve got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour.”
Cash’s words did not lead to action in the final game of the season series, but it resulted in blue t-shirts the Rays have been wearing since clinching the division Sept. 24.
“They won the division,” Stanton said. “They’ve got that. Now’s there’s an opportunity to let them just have the division. The full bragging rights chance is here. So, shirts and hats don’t mean anything.”
Both teams reached San Diego — and the awkwardness of sharing the same hotel — with impressive sweeps in the first round.
“I don’t expect there to be any issues in the hotel,” New York reliever Zack Britton said. “If we see each other, I’m sure we’ll have a friendly nod and just go about our business.”
The Rays dominated the eighth-seeded Toronto Blue Jays and closed the series with an 8-2 win on Wednesday when Hunter Renfroe and Mike Zunino homered. Tampa Bay beat Toronto without Austin Meadows, who has been on the injured list since Sept. 18 with a strained left oblique, but the outfielder could return for the ALDS.
The Yankees completed a sweep in Cleveland, following up a 12-3 win with a 10-9 victory Wednesday when they rallied from four runs down and got a tiebreaking single from LeMahieu in the ninth.
By completing sweeps, the teams were able to quickly start focusing on this series, which starts with Snell opposing Gerrit Cole.
Snell pitched Game 1 against Toronto when he allowed one hit and struck out nine in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Snell was 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in the regular season and allowed three runs on four hits in eight innings during two starts against the Yankees.
Cole finished the regular season with a flourish and then allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings in Cleveland on Tuesday. Cole was 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA in the regular season but posted a 4.96 ERA and allowed five of his 14 homers in three starts against Tampa Bay.
–Field Level Media