A home clubhouse celebration scene at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night would’ve been gauche.
Also perfectly appropriate.
And now that the Yankees can bid farewell to the dangerous Rays for the duration of this regular season, it’s time for a true character test: Will this 2020 group be remembered for doing anything besides validating the Rays’ greatness?
This rivalry’s season-series finale wound up as one-sided as the entire production. The Rays jubilantly scored four runs before making an out and put the Yankees’ bats into a coma with a sleepy, 5-2 victory at Yankee Stadium, giving them a decisive 8-2 edge for the campaign. With just 25 games left on their schedule — none against the Rays (26-12), at least — the Yankees (20-15) trail their low-payroll nemesis by a daunting 4½ games. Even more daunting, they lead the third-place Blue Jays (19-16) by a mere game.
“I’m disappointed overall with the way we’ve played recently,” team elder Brett Gardner said. “We’ve got to pick it up.”
If Tuesday night’s 5-3 Yankees win presented one kind of ugly, with Aroldis Chapman throwing a 101 mph fastball over Mike Brosseau’s head and Kevin Cash openly threatening to order his pitchers to retaliate, then Wednesday’s hangover contest, featuring neither Cash nor his fellow suspended skipper Aaron Boone, felt ugly in a different “People actually like this sport?” sort of way. Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery lasted just nine batters, retiring just two of them — Brosseau slammed the first of his two homers on the night, nice revenge — and the bottom of the first inning featured a five-minute drone delay. Seriously.
In the fifth, Yankees reliever Ben Heller drew an ejection from the umpires, who clearly were on high alert, for hitting Tampa Bay’s Hunter Renfroe in the side with a pitch, further delaying the action. Since Yankees substitute manager Carlos Mendoza said the umps issued no pregame warning, this was overkill.
On offense, against Rays starter Charlie Morton, returning from the injured list, and a fleet of relievers, the Yankees managed just one run, Clint Frazier’s solo homer in the sixth, until making some noise in the ninth. The last four guys in their lineup — struggling Mike Tauchman, hopelessly lost Gary Sanchez, suddenly aging Gardner and still unproven Tyler Wade — combined to go 2-for-13 with six strikeouts and two walks. Instead of next man up, it felt like next man out.
Chapman, who appealed his three-game suspension, might as well have started serving his punishment Wednesday, as you couldn’t see a Yankees save situation from a mile away.
“The bottom line is they played better baseball,” Sanchez, through an interpreter, said of the Rays. “We expect ourselves to be better. Hopefully we meet them again, we make the necessary adjustments and really perform the way that we are used to.”
If these two clubs do face off in October, you can expect the tensions to rise again, for if Wednesday turned down the volume, it maintained the heat. These managers clearly no longer like each other, not with Cash refusing to retract his Tuesday criticisms of the Yankees” poor coaching” and “poor teaching” as Boone cracked that he would use his suspension to “tighten up my coaching techniques.” Boone added that Cash’s money quote, “I’ve got a whole damn stable of guys who throw 98 miles per hour,” was “reckless and inflammatory.”
Once the game started, the most chirping came from the Rays’ Twitter account, which captioned Brosseau’s first homer with “Over everyone’s head.” Pretty good!
Can the Yankees get up off the mat? Their schedule the rest of the way features 13 games against current playoff teams — 10 with the dangerous Blue Jays, whom they haven’t faced at all, and three with Derek Jeter’s surprising Marlins. So far, they own a 6-12 record against current playoff clubs, having gone 2-2 each against the Braves and Phillies in addition to their Rays travails.
They hardly look or feel like a championship outfit. It’s on them to figure out, no matter how many injuries they have, how to work their way to some actual celebrations before time runs out.