Order up the agita.
Fire up the bloodstreams.
The Yankees and the Rays are taking their blood feud on the road, taking it to sleepy, seaside San Diego. But don’t be fooled. We’ll be able to feel the distaste from here. We’ll be able to sense the mutual contempt. We are about to use and overuse the single greatest term in all of sports:
“These two teams do … not … like each other!”
The Rays cruised there, outclassing the Blue Jays on back-to-back nights in the cozy confines of Tropicana Field. The Yankees had to squirm to get there, recovering from a four-run deficit early and a one-run hole late, blowing two two-run leads in between, but when they finally polished off the Indians, 10-9, just past 1 o’clock Thursday morning, we had what we have wanted all year.
We have Yankees-Rays.
We have Rays-Yankees.
We have a best-of-five ALDS at neutral-site Petco Park, with all the baggage these two AL East rivals have assembled across the past few years. You may recall that the last time these two gathered in the same ballpark, it was Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, and Aroldis Chapman had buzzed Mike Brousseau’s tower, and it moved Kevin Cash, Rays manager, to make this cheery observation:
“I have a whole bleepin’ stable of guys that throw 98. Period.”
Oh, yeah. It’s on like Donkey Kong.
“They’ve been the best team in our league all year, so we’re excited to play the best team and hopefully have our way with them this time,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We know they’ll be ready for us, but we look forward to that challenge and hopefully we can turn the tables on them.”
It’s been too long since we have had this. You really need to go back to the teeth of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in 2003 and 2004, when they would throw at each other and curse at each other and step to each other and, once, memorably, wind up in hand-to-hand conflict with each other.
The Yankees and the Rays don’t have quite that kind of animus because they haven’t occupied each other’s airspace for nearly as long. But it still ought to be something to behold. The Rays were the better team over 60 games. The Yankees only need to be the better team over five.
They were the better team, barely, Wednesday night and Thursday morning. If Game 1 of this best-of-three AL Wild Card Series had been an artless, one-sided spanking, Game 2 was something else altogether, with a cast-of-thousands cavalcade of seize-the-moment stars.
Cleveland shook off a night stuffed with Gerrit Cole magnificence by drilling Masahiro Tanaka for those four first-inning runs, and Tanaka looked as if he were about a pitch or two from needing a terribly early hook. He recovered. So did the Yankees.
The Tribe then squandered that early cushion in large part because a kid from the northern New York suburbs, James Karinchak, couldn’t sneak a sinking fastball past Gio Urshela. Karinchak has the look and the repertoire — and the uniform number, 99 — of a past (fictional) Indians pitcher, Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
Urshela has nine hard years in the Indians’ system on his permanent record, and in none of those nine did he even remotely resemble the player he’s been in two years as a Yankee. He blasted a ball well over the left-center field wall for a grand slam, and 0-4 down had become 5-4 up, and even in an empty ballpark without fans to offer a killing groan that seemed like enough to settle matters.
It wasn’t. The Indians came back, twice, and then took a 9-8 lead in the eighth, and they seemed determined to buy one more day of baseball season. They couldn’t. Urshela turned an eye-popping double play to end the eighth, then helped build bases-loaded, none-out in the ninth off Brad Hand. Gary Sanchez tied the game with a sac fly. DJ LeMahieu — of course — nudged a 40-hopper into center field to put the Yankees ahead. Chapman closed it out.
“That game,” Boone said, “was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
You think that was fun? Just wait. Goodbye to Cleveland, which got a head start on a 73rd year without a championship. Hello, San Diego. Hello, Tampa Bay. Time for some more fun.
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