Tired: Dealing with an opposition’s tendency to pitch inside by having your pitchers offer warning shots of their own, risking a beanball war and cyclical escalation.
Wired: Complaining about it publicly.
On Sunday, New York’s Jordan Montgomery hit Austin Meadows. Twice. A day earlier, Yankees reliever Justin Wilson hit Joey Wendle. On Friday, Nick Nelson drilled Rays catcher Mike Zunino.
At which point, Rays manager Kevin Cash leveraged the power of the press, saying after the game that this pattern “continues to roll over,” and was “so grossly mishandled by Major League Baseball last year.”
Cash was talking about a lot of things.
Bad blood has been flowing between these teams since 2018, during which time a series of Yankees pitchers has drilled a series of Rays hitters, results of which include a fractured foot for Kevin Kiermeir. In response to it all, Tampa Bay reliever Andrew Kittredge threw a fastball at the head of New York catcher Austin Romine, and it was officially on. (Whether Kittredge was aiming for Romine’s helmet is up for debate, but the batter was a clear target.) CC Sabathia then drilled Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (costing himself $500,000 in the process), and things have tumbled downhill from there.
Most notable among those moments was when Masahiro Tanaka drilled Joey Wendle with an extra-oomph fastball last September, and Aroldis Chapman nearly hit Mike Brosseau in the head with a 101-mph fastball later in that same game. (Chapman was suspended, but not until this season, and Tanaka wasn’t disciplined at all. Thus Cash’s “mishandled” comments about MLB’s response.)
Since 2018, the Yankees have hit 24 Rays (not wildly out of line with their numbers against other AL East opposition), while Tampa Bay has drilled 16 Yankees.
“Do I personally think [Montgomery] was trying to hit [Meadows]?” said Cash. “I do not. But this continues to roll over.”
To make matters worse, Montgomery nearly hit Montgomery in the head, a pitch sketchy enough to earn immediate warnings for both dugouts from plate ump Marty Foster. (Despite the warning, Montgomery was not tossed after hitting Meadows again four innings later.) Toward the beginning of this run, it was actually the Yankees complaining that Tampa Bay was coming up and in with far too much frequency. Things change.
Give Cash credit for forcing the issue. His protestations will likely have no impact on MLB’s official position, but whoever umpires the remaining games between the teams this season will certainly be on notice.
The Yankees and Rays meet again in New York on Friday.