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Benches clear after the Yankees beat the Rays, 5-3

The Yankees won an exciting game, but one with unnecessary drama afterwards.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees finally snapped their losing streak against the Rays! It turns out it is indeed possible to beat them at Yankee Stadium. All you need is a strong start, a few home runs, and one of the most exciting innings of the year. The Bombers bested Tampa Bay by a score of 5-3, but the drama didn’t start until the 27th out was recorded.

DJ Does It All

The Yankees’ lineup badly needed DJ LeMahieu in it, and if you needed any reminder, he delivered one on the second pitch of the game. LeMahieu pulled an 82 mph changeup off Trevor Richards into the left-field seats.

He followed that up with an opposite-field home run in the third inning. This one came off a 91 mph fastball and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead. He didn’t quite inside-out it, but he still got to take advantage of the short porch in right field.

The 32-year-old finished the night going 2-for-4, pushing his season line to .402/.444/.587 with four home runs (184 wRC+).

LeMahieu flashed the leather, too. In the top of the second, he started an inning-ending double play. The Yankees are a completely different team with LeMahieu playing. It’s almost inconceivable how he shapes the game in so many different ways.

One Bad Pitch

Masahiro Tanaka shook off his bad start against the Rays all right. He held Tampa Bay to two runs, flipping the script on his routine pitching style. Batters come into a start against Tanaka expecting a two-seam fastball and a spitter. Tonight they got a fourseamer that maxed out at 95.1 mph and a steady diet of sliders.

That strategy worked to great effect, too, as the Rays struggled to square him up all night. Tanaka got 11 swings-and-misses on his slider, two on his four-seam, and two on the splitter. Getting multiple whiffs on three different pitches? That’s pretty great.

Tanaka only allowed one hit through his first four innings of work. The only real trouble he got into came in the fifth, when Willy Adames led off with a ground-rule double. That brought Kevin Kiermaier to the plate, who homered on the third pitch of the at-bat. Tanaka gave him a slider, but he left it in the worst possible spot—right where Kiermaier likes it.

Compare that to his sweet spot on sliders:

Credit: FanGraphs

One bad pitch, and the Rays tied the game. Tanaka settled down though, escaping the fifth and pitching through the sixth, making it the longest start of his season to date.

All told, Tanaka allowed two runs on three hits, striking out seven and walking one. It didn’t look like a typical Tanaka start, but maybe that’s just what was needed to keep the Rays off-kilter.

The Best Inning of the Season

Ryan Thompson took over for Richards with two outs in the fifth inning. He retired DJ LeMahieu on five pitches, leaving him plenty fresh for the sixth. And thank goodness for that, because he set up arguably the best inning of the season.

Luke Voit got the action started with a leadoff single. Aaron Hicks lined out, freezing Voit at first, but Clint Frazier moved him to second with a single of his own. That brought Gio Urshela to the plate, and he delivered the excitement. Thompson got ahead 0-2 with a pair of sinkers, but the third time Urshela was waiting for it. He laced the pitch to right center field, past a diving Kiermaier.

Voit and Frazier took off like they heard the starter’s pistol at a track meet, circling the bases as Austin Meadows started the relay to Adames. The Rays’ shortstop overthrew the catcher, allowing the two runners to score. Thompson backed up Michael Pérez, as he’s supposed to, but he missed the ball as well, sending Urshela charging home. There was a play at the plate, but Urshela had a swimming slide to score.

That play plated three runs, giving the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Of course the the walk-off innings are satisfying for delivering a win, but the sixth tonight packed a whole different kind of adrenaline rush.

An Extremely Dumb Ninth

With a 5-3 lead in the top of the ninth, the Yankees turned the game over to their closer, Aroldis Chapman. The left-hander got Joey Wendle to ground out, then Meadows to line out. With two away and Mike Brosseau at the plate, Chapman misfired a 101 mph fastball right at the third baseman’s head. It was a scary sight, but nothing gave the appearance that Chapman was head-hunting.

Brosseau naturally was shaken up. Anyone would be in those circumstances! The Rays’ bench chirped, and the umpires talked it over, ultimately deciding to issue a warning. Kevin Cash protested, arguing that it was intentional. I’m not sure how he could think that, unless he believed Tanaka’s errant pitches from earlier in the game were an attempt at beaning the Rays.

Either way, Chapman closed out the game and stared down Brosseau. Again, that’s part of Chapman’s game. Just like how Fernando Rodney shot the arrow and Rafael Soriano untucked his shirt, Chapman has always given the opposing batter a long, intimidating stare. The benches cleared, after the game had ended, and in defiance of the league’s social-distancing protocols.

Dumb. Extremely dumb. And on many levels!

  1. In these circumstances, Chapman probably would have been better off forgoing the stare-down. The fire was smoldering, and he dumped a whole bunch of lighter fluid on it. It’s hard to abandon any ritual as any athlete, let alone a victory one for a closer, but the prudent move would have been to just forget this time.
  2. The Rays should know it’s not intentional in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees desperately need to win. Come on. Chapman had one goal, and that was to pick up three outs. The best way to take out your frustrations on a team that has given you fits? Beat them. That’s what the Yankees were trying to do. Thinking anything else just illustrates a persecution complex befitting of the league’s little brother.
  3. Cash couldn’t let it go. He followed it up by basically issuing a threat! He told Marc Topkin after the game that his staff consists of “a whole stable of guys who throw 98.” If the Rays throw at the Yankees tomorrow, the league should suspend the pitcher and Cash for that comment. Completely ridiculous and unnecessarily incendiary.

Leftovers

Anyway, Jonathan Loáisiga allowed a home run to Adames in the seventh. The solo shot came off a hanging curveball, which is unfortunate, because Loáisiga’s fastball looked especially sharp tonight. In nicer news, Zack Britton returned from the injured, pitching a scoreless eighth, and it didn’t look like he missed a beat. The Yankees badly missed him in the bullpen.

And, lastly, please enjoy this beautiful diving catch by Frazier:

Concussions are no joke, and they take a long time to recover. It appears he’s fully healthy now, and able to play a pretty darn good right field. Good on him; Clint rocks.

The Yankees finish up the season series with the Rays tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM. Jordan Montgomery is slated to get the ball for the Yankees, while Charlie Morton is expected to return off the injured list and start for the Rays.

Box Score