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The most memorable Yankees adversaries

Yankees Universe doesn’t think too highly of these memorable opponents

Armando Benitez

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was part of the Puerto Rico team that fell to the United States in the World Baseball Classic last week. He also took exception to comments made by US center fielder Adam Jones, who said the US team found an added source of motivation in reports that Puerto Rico had begun planning a parade before the championship game was even played.

Molina asserted that Jones had no idea what he was talking about and demanded an apology. Now does this mean Molina and Jones have laid the groundwork for an intense personal rivalry for the rest of their careers? Probably not. They play in opposite leagues, and this doesn’t seem like something that will spark a Rougned Odor/Jose Bautista feud this season.

Still, the incident got me thinking of personal rivalries that involved Yankees. Some Yanks held grudges towards other players for their entire careers, and it resulted in some fine entertainment for the fans. Here are the top rivalries that come to mind.

Mark Teixeira vs Vicente Padilla

Teixeira and Padilla’s bad blood actually started when they were teammates in Texas. Padilla would plunk his share of hitters, and since he would not be available as a source of retaliation to opponents, they would go after the Rangers’ bigger bats. This would usually leave Teixeira on the receiving end of retaliation pitches.

The feud reached a boiling point when Teixeira signed with the Yanks and Padilla joined the Red Sox. Teixeira stroked a clutch triple against Padilla, and afterward vented some of his feelings about Padilla and his tendencies to hit batters. Padilla responded swiftly and irrationally by implying Teixeira was scared to face him, and was possibly a racist. Padilla was almost as wild with his comments as he was with his pitches.

Padilla had plunked Teixeira three times in 11 at-bats before they met in late July of 2012, when Teixeira claimed the upper hand of the rivalry.

The Yankees vs. George Brett

The Bronx used to be where World Series hopes went to die for Brett and the Royals. Despite a historic run of regular season success, the Royals could never get past the Yanks in the late seventies.

Both teams battled it out heavily during that era, with one or the other usually competing in the World Series. The face of the Royals during that time was Brett, who seemed to always be surrounded by controversy. We know about the “pine tar game,” but there was also the 1977 ALCS, when Brett legged out a triple before sliding hard into third base. Graig Nettles and the Yanks didn’t take kindly to it...

Thurman Munson vs Carlton Fisk

This rivalry was equally obsessive on both sides. Munson would constantly compare his stats with Fisk’s, and even purposely dropped third strike pitches so he could throw the runner out at first and pass Fisk in the assist category.

Seriously. Munson was trailing Fisk by two assists when he deliberately dropped a third strike from Ron Guidry three times in one game to move into first.

Fisk shared the competitive hatred, and apparently grew angry at any mention of Munson’s name. Their rivalry turned physical in 1973 when Munson charged in on Fisk during a suicide squeeze attempt that failed when Gene Michael could not make contact on the bunt attempt. Munson and Fisk collided, exchanged words and threw punches. Michael and even manager Ralph Houk got involved. I couldn’t find any video of the incident, so here’s a clip of Fisk getting ran over by Lou Piniella. It’ll have to do.

Roger Clemens vs Mike Piazza

The Yankees were cementing themselves as a true dynasty in 2000 when the Mets began to be a force in the National League, one of the few times both teams were competitive and provided a real rivalry.

This rivalry escalated in July of 2000 when Roger Clemens fired a 98 mph fastball that knocked Mike Piazza in the head and to the ground. It was a scary incident that left Piazza grateful he hadn’t suffered a life-threatening injury.

The two would cross paths again in game two of the 2000 World Series, when an inside fastball from Clemens sawed Piazza’s bat in half. The ball trickled foul while the top half of the bat made it’s way right to Clemens, who quickly whipped the shard of wood right in the direction of Piazza.

Clemens insisted he was throwing the bat out of play and didn’t see Piazza making his way up the first base line, but benches still emptied. Nothing major came of it, and the Yankees easily disposed of the Mets in five games.

Tino Martinez vs. Armando Benitez

Martinez was still a member of the Mariners when Benitez first plunked him in 1995. Three years later, the Yankees were beginning the most successful season in baseball history as the Orioles were falling by the wayside in the AL East when the two teams met in May of 1998.

Down 5-1 early, the Yankees clawed their way back with an exclamation point in the form of a Bernie Williams home run off Benitez. In a clear act of frustration, Benitez drilled Martinez square in the back with a fastball on the next pitch, igniting one of the most memorable brawls in Yankee history.

Every Yankee ever vs. Pedro Martinez

Arguably the most memorable villain, Martinez constantly used the media and inside fastballs to ignite the Yanks-Sox rivalry. The rivalry was among the fiercest it’s ever been during Martinez’s tenure in Boston.

The late Don Zimmer was at the center of the Martinez drama in Game Three of the 2003 ALCS after benches cleared when Clemens threw a high (and not very inside) fastball at Manny Ramirez. An ugly situation ensued and delayed a game the Yanks would eventually win, and of course would win the series.

The Yankees also enjoyed the last laugh against Martinez and the Phillies in the 2009 World Series (thank you Hideki Matsui).