To understand how seriously the Yankees have taken games against their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays, this season, consider Manager Aaron Boone’s second-inning outburst in the first game of his team’s doubleheader sweep on Thursday.
After a called strike by the rookie umpire Brennan Miller, who had already riled the Yankees, Boone loudly voiced complaints.
“A really bad start,” Boone could be heard shouting from his usual perch on the dugout steps, while D.J. LeMahieu was batting.
Deciding he had heard enough, Miller issued the first ejection of his brief major league career. Tossed from a game for the third time this season, Boone wasn’t going to disappear into the clubhouse without expressing his thoughts and stretching his vocabulary. He emerged from the dugout shouting at Miller and then bellowed into the umpire’s face.
Most of what Boone said cannot be reprinted here, but he used especially colorful language while describing the Yankees as “savages” in the batter’s box. He also told Miller more than once that his performance had fallen short.
“I feel bad for you,” Boone said, according to replays of the interaction that circulated widely on social media. He complimented the Rays starting pitcher, Yonny Chirinos, before reiterating his faith in his hitters and his lack of it in Miller’s strike zone.
“Tighten it up right now,” Boone added before leaving the field.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, who had been called out on an offending third strike and then vented his anger by smacking his bat against the dugout ceiling and bat rack, applauded Boone’s performance from the dugout.
Gardner’s dugout display turned out to be less dangerous than last month’s helmet tossing in Cleveland, which led to six stitches on his lip.
“I was just making noise,” Gardner said. “I can’t throw my helmet anymore.”
Boone’s eruption seemed to spur the Yankees into action against the Rays.
“It gave me a boost to concentrate and go out there and do my job and get a victory for him because he went out there and fought for us,” said Domingo German, the Yankees’ starting pitcher, who recovered from an early 2-0 deficit and tossed six stout innings in a 6-2 victory. “I felt it was my responsibility to go back out there and return the favor.”
Just before Boone’s ejection, the Yankees had overcome two home runs surrendered by German (12-2) with a game-tying two-run homer by third baseman Gio Urshela. For the rest of the game, they overpowered the Rays.
They took a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning on run-scoring hits by Urshela, Gary Sanchez and Luke Voit, who had been slumping since his return from the injured list last week. Aaron Hicks added a home run an inning later. The Yankees bullpen did the rest.
Afterward, Boone said he felt that he needed to speak up because it was an important game and Miller’s calls weren’t going the Yankees’ way. And, Boone said, he didn’t want any coaches or players thrown out for their chirping.
“Sometimes you got to take it on yourself,” Boone said.
Boone laughed when asked to explain his “savages” remark about the Yankees, who have one of the best offenses in baseball. “Sometimes in the heat of the battle you just kind of utter some things,” he said. “I feel that way about our guys — no doubt.”
“He’s been calling us savages all year,” Voit said, adding later, “We are a bunch of savages.”
As for telling Miller that he felt bad for him, Boone sounded more apologetic after the game than during it. (A manager’s ejection is often followed by an M.L.B. fine.)
“I know he was getting a lot of heat from us, so I was sympathetic to him while also being upset,” Boone said. “And I didn’t mean that in any means in a demeaning way. It was more just, ‘I know we’re all over you here and it’s early in this game, but I thought it was important to make a statement there.’”
Asked if he thought Boone went too far with Miller, Gerry Davis, the umpiring crew chief, said: “You’re not allowed to argue balls and strikes, so yeah. So yes, he did.”
The Yankees made another statement in the second game, but without any ejections, beating the Rays, 5-1. They leaned heavily on their bullpen after using Chad Green as an opener; Voit smashed a fifth-inning home run against Charlie Morton, the Rays’ All-Star right-hander, and a Morton balk with the bases loaded punctuated a four-run sixth in which the Yankees took the lead
While the Red Sox have been the Yankees’ longtime rival in the American League East, the second-place Rays have been their true adversary this season. The Red Sox have turned their season around after a slow start but remain in third place in the division. And the Yankees, who hold an eight-game lead, are 12-5 against the Rays this season, compared with 6-1 against the Red Sox.
Several times this season and last, tensions have flared during a game against the Rays. C.C. Sabathia was suspended five games this season because of an incident in which he threw at Rays catcher Jesus Sucre. He was also involved in a benches-clearing dispute this week with Rays outfielder Avisail Garcia that both Sabathia and Garcia ultimately chalked up to a misunderstanding.
“It’s two good teams battling for the division,” Sabathia said. “The games are going to be intense. There’s no love lost.”
A lot could change by the next meeting between the Yankees and the Rays: a two-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the final week of the season. The division race may have already been decided, but if the Rays have climbed into the A.L. East lead, it won’t be because they beat the Yankees themselves.
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