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 at 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.
It’s been too long since we 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 the better team over five.
If Game 1 of this best-of-three American League wild-card series had been an artless, one-sided spanking, Game 2 was something else altogether, and had just about everything: rain, offensive fireworks, more rain, and matching resilient teams; the Yankees overcame a four-run deficit, the Indians climbed out of two separate two-run holes.
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, of upstate Orange County, 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 grown that seemed like enough to settle matters.
The Indians recovered. Six-four down became 6-6 in the fifth when they finally chased Tanaka. Eight-six down became 8-8 in the seventh when Sandy Alomar Jr., subbing for Terry Francona as the Cleveland manager, stunned everyone watching — and nearly caused a Twitter meltdown — by pinch-hitting Jordan Luplow (hitting a robust .192 on the year) for breakout star Josh Naylor (who started this series 5-for-5 and absolutely mashed ball after ball against both Cole and Tanaka).
It seemed Alomar had painted himself into a corner.
And naturally Luplow crushed one to the base of the wall, scoring two, tying the game, suddenly turning what had felt like done deal into something else. Then they added a run in the eighth when Cesar Hernandez dunked one into left field off Aroldis Chapman, hastily summoned to replace poor Jonathan Loaisiga.
It was 9-8. It looked like it might end that way. It didn’t end that way. Urshela added to his pile of highlight-reel defensive plays with an eye-popping double play to end the eighth, then helped build bases-loaded, none-out in the ninth of 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.
Good-bye to the Indians, who get a head start on a 73rd year without a championship. Hello, San Diego. Hello, Tampa Bay. Time for some fun.
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