Game 40: NYY vs. TB — And they say baseball’s a boring game…

I blame the Hawaiian shirts. Unless you are a man of a certain age or going to a theme party, there is absolutely no reason for Hawaiian shirts to exist or to be an acceptable marketing tool to fans for a Saturday afternoon game. I don’t care that it’s Florida, but this isn’t Key West in 1977. You aren’t Elvis Presley or Jimmy Buffett. And I really need something to blame.

Of course, the drama with the home plate umpire should be enough. It’s certainly enough to warrant a nearly four hour afternoon game in St. Petersburg today, the middle game against the Rays this weekend. The Yankees were looking for Masahiro Tanaka to give them a good base to get a win today. But it was not to be. Tanaka got really roughed up from the start, throwing into the only the 4th inning with 76 pitches, giving up 9 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, striking out 4 batters. It’s hard to believe this is the same Tanaka from Spring Training.

Tanaka gave up a lead-off home run in the 1st inning to set the tone for his outing (and the game, really).  In the 2nd, with 2 outs and 2 runners on base, a double scored the lead runner before Tanaka intentionally walked the next batter. And then the runner at 2nd dangled too far off base and reminded the world why April saw the phrase “You don’t run on Gary!” become popular. He ran on Gary, and he got out. A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd added another notch to the Rays’ score.

But it would be the 4th inning that really sealed the deal for the game. The lead-off batter doubled, and the next batter struck out on a wild pitch that allowed him to reach base safely (thus negating the out). A 3-run home run (by the same guy that led-off the game for the Rays with a homer) really cemented the Rays’ lead. Two singles and runners on the corners later, Tanaka was done for the afternoon.

In came Tommy Layne. Layne walked the first batter and loaded the bases, but then the infield got some great defense in with consecutive line-outs up the middle and a force out at 2nd to get out of the jam. That’s called teamwork.

Before we get to the heart of the drama today, the Yankee weren’t exactly sitting back watching the Rays tally up these runs without adding some of their own. Aaron Judge kicked off the 2nd inning with his 15th home run of the season into the right field seats to initially tie up the game. Then in the 4th, with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Chase Headley’s double scored both Castro and Judge to tie up the game again. And in the 5th, Gary Sanchez hit a big 2-out solo home run up the middle to tack on another run for the Yankees. Matt Holliday was hit by a pitch but then the Rays got the 3rd out of the inning to halt any attempt to rally.

And then came the now infamous bottom of the 5th inning. A lead-off single and fly out seemed rather innocuous to start this inning. But then Layne hit the next batter, throwing a bit high actually. (more later) A single score the lead runner, and that was it for Layne. Giovanni Gallegos got the opportunity to try, but promptly loaded the bases with a walk. A single then scored 2 of the runners, so pitching coach Larry Rothschild made a visit out to the mound to check on his pitcher. Sometime between saying his bit to Gallegos and before hitting the baseline, the home plate umpire decided to eject Rothschild. (again more later)

Joe Girardi was just as confused as I was on that decision and came out to question the call. And in the process, he too joined Rothschild in the clubhouse for the rest of the game. But not before Girardi took a page out of old Yankees manager Billy Martin and actually physically walked over to home plate and covered up the base with dirt. Then Gallegos walked the next batter and loaded up the bases again before getting a well-placed strikeout and a force out at 2nd to get out of his own jam.

The Yankees came up to bat at the top of the 6th inning, and the drama continued. Aaron Judge was promptly hit by a pitch on the left side, which is where you hit someone if you intend to hit them. The home plate umpire immediately ejected the Rays’ starter, and this may be the only ejection I actually agreed with tonight. A former Yankee came on to give up a double to Ellsbury to put runners in scoring position. Judge then scored on Chase Headley’s ground out, but then breezed through the next 8 outs of the Yankees. The Yankees got a baserunner in the 9th, a walk, but the Rays pitching found favor at the plate and ended the Yankees’ hopes for a comeback.

The Yankees’ pitching began to take a turn for the better as Gallegos got 2 outs in the 6th before Chasen Shreve breezed his way through 4 outs, 3 of them solid strikeouts. Jonathan Holder’s beautiful 9th inning continued his momentum and solidifying him for being a key aspect of the Yankees bullpen.

Final score: 9-5 Rays.

Okay, so let’s talk about the drama and all the ejections. So, unfortunately, the batter Layne hit in the 5th that seemed to kickstart this whole mess was the same batter that already hit 2 homers off Tanaka, so the Rays’ announcers jumped to the conclusion this was on purpose. Which I guess I could understand, but like I said before, when pitchers intentionally throw at batters, they don’t throw at their heads (unless they’re major jerks). But one could argue for the fact that the Rays’ starter already hit Matt Holliday in the 4th, and thus this was revenge.

I just have a huge problem with that entire line of logic because Layne isn’t the kind of guy that would do that, especially like that. Why would a pitcher risk getting a batter on base when they need to shut them down quickly to get back in the game for a comeback?

Now, the pitcher hitting Judge? That was no doubt in anyone’s mind as on-purpose.

I had a researcher do some work for me during the game, and apparently, the home plate umpire is known for two things — ejecting people without justifiable cause and for antagonizing players and coaches to justify said ejection. Rothschild came from the mound and made an off-the-cuff remark about the umpire missing a few pitches. Ejected.

So, Girardi rightly came out to ask why Rothschild was ejected because it didn’t seem directly clear. And just because Girardi deigned to ask a question, he was immediately tossed from the game too. And, like Girardi said later, if he was going to get tossed, he was going to get his money’s worth. Hence, the redecoration of the home plate.

And I’m not just saying this because of how the drama played out. I’ve supported or condemned ejections and intent balls from both sides of the game, and sometimes the Yankees deserve the ejection or I know they hit a batter on purpose. I call it like I see it. I don’t always agree with the choices, and I’m not a big fan of intentionally hitting a batter ever (even a showboating diva). But I will be honest about what I see. And tonight was just a mess on all fronts.

It’s one of those days I’m glad just to put in the books and turn the page, hoping for something better. And there has to be something better. Perhaps even less dramatic. But it struck me as amusing how everyone seems to think baseball is boring. Clearly, they’ve never witnessed a game like today. Baseball is most definitely not boring.

Go Yankees!

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