If you’ve ever been a duck at a shooting gallery at a country fair, you’ll know how the New York Yankees feel when facing Tampa Bay Rays pitchers: in the crosshairs.
Tuesday night Rays reliever Steven Geltz hit Derek Jeter with an 0-2 pitch in the top of the eighth inning of the Rays 6-1 victory, marking the fifth Yankee hit by the Rays in the last four games. After Chase Headley was hit on the chin last Thursday with a 96 mph fastball, he wound up in the hospital and missed four games.
After Jeter was hit, Yankees manager Joe Girardi left the dugout because plate umpire Rob Drake warned both benches. No Rays have been hit by a Yankees pitcher in the series. Girardi was ejected, but that was only the beginning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Yankees reliever David Phelps threw inside to Kevin Kiermaier, without hitting him. The benches started screaming at each other, prompting Yankees Esmil Rogers, Antoan Richardson and Hiroki Kuroda to head out of the dugout toward the Rays. The umpires ejected Phelps and bench coach Tony Pena of the Yankees.
After the game, a furious Girardi said, “If you are going to pitch inside, pitch the right way. If you can’t pitch inside, don’t pitch inside. We are not pincushions. If you are going to pitch inside, learn how to pitch inside. You pitch down in the zone. You don’t pitch up. This is not practice. This is guys’ livelihood.” Asked about Drake’s strange decision to warn both benches, Girardi responded, “Who knows why they do things?”
Rays manager Joe Maddon, who protested that Geltz’s pitch to Jeter was supposed to be outside, tried to parse Girardi’s outburst, “I agree with everything he said, but to pitch inside correctly or incorrectly, that’s not the point. It is called baseball; sometimes hitters get hit. But I understand their frustration entirely. We are not going to apologize for it because it is part of the game. But I do get why he was upset.”
But Headley didn’t buy that explanation, arguing that pitchers in the big leagues should be able to have better control. He said:
You shouldn’t be in the big leagues if you keep doing that consistently. I mean, guys are throwing too hard with too good a stuff. Granted, I know that balls get away every now and then. I get it. It can’t keep happening. If a guy can’t control the fastball, he can’t pitch in there. He can’t be in the game. He can’t be in the big leagues because guys’ careers are at stake. You can’t have it happen. Again, I don’t think there is intent, but that doesn’t change what can possibly happen.
Oddly, the contretemps involving Jeter came the same night he was honored by the Rays before the game. Jeter, who was 0 for 26 before he was hit, was as self-controlled as ever, only saying in his typical low-key style, “I’m sure it’s a sensitive subject here, especially considering what happened with Chase the other day. We had a few guys get hit, so yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of frustration, just like they were frustrated when they almost got hit. Frustration probably on both sides.”
Girardi had other reasons for his anger; the umpires could not review a two-run sacrifice fly in the seventh inning in which he thought James Loney left second base too early.
Headley was preparing for more trouble on Wednesday, saying, “I know emotions are high.”