The Yankees “magic number” is down to 1. They are solidly 2 games ahead of the Athletics, so just 1 win in this weekend’s series against the Red Sox means that they have secured home field advantage for the Wild Card game, a much easier trip for Wednesday’s game from Boston. This would technically be the biggest “advantage” for the Yankees, as the A’s will have to fly in from California after their weekend series in Anaheim.
But that particular drama is a series away. And there was plenty of drama this afternoon under the dome of Tropicana Field in the Yankees final game of this series against the Rays, mainly thanks to the strong scoreless, 1-hit start by CC Sabathia and a power show by the Yankees’ offense.
In the 1st, Brett Gardner led-off the game with a double. With 1 out, Voit and Stanton each walked to load the bases. All the runners moved up on a wild pitch, scoring Gardner. Then Miguel Andujar smacked a 2-out 3-run home run to give the Yankees a solid early lead. The Rays changed their pitchers and that helped keep the Yankees in line for a bit.
Torres led-off the 4th with a single, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, and then scored on Austin Romine’s single. Hechavarria singled but then was tagged out on Gardner’s fielder’s choice grounder that left runners on the corners. Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly scored Romine. Gardner then stole 2nd and scored on Luke Voit’s big double.
So the Yankees had this hefty lead. And CC Sabathia was having his own strong show from the mound. He threw just 55 pitches today into the 6th inning, allowing just 1 hit, and striking out 5 Rays batters. Sabathia was having one of those good outings that made him a legend in his long career, and he just needed 2 more full innings to get a special bonus as part of his contract. Literally, he just had to pitch through 7 innings today to get a $500,000 contract bonus.
But in his 5th inning, one particular pitch hit a Rays’ batter and started much of the bitter drama today. It was an accident, just an errant pitch. Why would a veteran starter with a huge offensive lead behind him intentionally hurt a batter?
As a result of this hit by pitch, the Rays pitcher felt it was his job to throw at Austin Romine, narrowly missing the Yankees catcher in the face. It was clearly intentional, clearly in “retribution” for Sabathia’s sloppy pitch in the previous inning. So, the dugouts got their requisite “warnings”. And the inning continued. Romine struck out 3 pitches later.
After the drama with Romine, Hechavarria singled and then scored on Brett Gardner’s big triple. Gardner then scored on Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly. And then Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton hit back-to-back home runs to keep the ball rolling for the Yankees’ offense today.
And then we went back into that drama. Now, when Romine got “buzzed”, he fell onto the ground and was visibly shaken. Boone had to hold back Sabathia from charging out in defense. Had Romine been actually hit (or worse, hurt), there would have been some serious scrums on the Trop’s infield. It was that kind of tense. Sabathia wasn’t having any of this nonsense. It’s this old-school tradition that shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s really a ridiculous response, especially as the pitch at Romine was aimed at his head. You don’t do that. That’s bad baseball.
And again, Sabathia wasn’t having any of it. He threw away that all that bonus money with a single pitch to kick off the bottom of the 6th inning when he plunked the Rays’ catcher on the back of the leg (calf area). It was a lazy pitch, and Sabathia didn’t even seem to see that he’d been ejected as he was already on his way to the dugout. Boone was also ejected in the fracas.
Luis Cessa came on to finish out the 6th inning with 3 quick outs. He gave up a lead-off solo home run in the 7th but otherwise sailed his way through 3 solid innings, including 5 (of the 9 outs) strikeouts. Loaisiga closed out the game with a strong 9th inning to keep the Rays to that lone allowed run.
But the Yankees wanted that run back. Giancarlo Stanton helped them do so with his lead-off solo home run in the 9th, his 2nd homer of the game and 37th for the season.
Final score: 12-1 Yankees, Yankees win the series 3-1
Next up: The Yankees are traveling to Boston tonight to begin their weekend series there tomorrow night at Fenway. Their final 3 games will be played against the 1st place Red Sox, a potential ALDS match-up should the Yankees win the Wild Card Game. The Red Sox are set to play the winner of the Wild Card Game as the AL team with the most wins.
And a quick reminder going into the weekend, that the AL is set (division leaders Red Sox, Indians, and Astros, and Wild Card opponents Athletics and Yankees), but the NL is going down to the wire. The Braves have the NL East, but the Central and West divisions are a half-game apart (Cubs-Brewers and Rockies-Dodgers) as I post (the Cubs and Rockies play today, so this will change). Plus the Cardinals are just a game out of Wild Card contention. This means that the NL is where the drama is right now.