Friday Five: Memorable Yankees vs. Rays moments
However you look at it, there have been many memorable moments in games between the two over the last 15-plus seasons, and as the Yankees and Rays prepare to make some Memorial Day weekend fireworks down on the Gulf coast, we present a countdown of five of the most unforgettable.
A textual look back at those events is below, and you can also re-live the moments visually in this exclusive photo gallery.
No. 5: Sept. 18, 1998 and Sept. 25, 1999 – Tampa Bay puts one on the left side
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays began play in 1998, and entering their game with the Yankees on Sept. 18, they were 0-6 against the Bombers…but that night, they finally “put one on the left side” of the win/loss ledger, topping their visitors 7-0 to finally get off the schneid. The win, which saw Tony Saunders and two relievers outduel Andy Pettitte, gave now-Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild his 60th of 63 wins as Devil Rays skipper, and finally allowed them to claim a win against every AL East rival.
So what happened in the aftermath? Much of what had happened before. The Yankees won the next night by a 4-0 margin and later swept Tampa in a four-game season-ending set in the Bronx to finish 1998 11-1 against their new rivals, and then began the 1999 season 6-0 against the Rays, a run that ended when Rothschild’s squad got their first-ever win at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25.
No. 4: March 8 and 12, 2008 – Bad blood boils over
As Spring Training 2008 proved, the saying “don’t get mad, get even” applies to baseball as well. On March 8 of that year, Tampa Bay’s Elliot Johnson had a violent collision with Francisco Cervelli at the plate, a play that left Johnson woozy, Cervelli with a broken wrist that cost him more than three months, and Yankees skipper Joe Girardi fuming.
Four days later the teams met again, and chaos ensued. Yankees pitcher Heath Phillips was ejected in the first inning after hitting Evan Longoria square in the ribs, and an inning later, Shelley Duncan slid into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura with spikes high, a move that caused right fielder Jonny Gomes to interject and sparked a benches-clearing brawl.
Thankfully, no one was injured, and Duncan, Gomes, and two Yankees coaches were ejected, closing out an unforgettable chapter in the rivalry that both sides surely wish wasn’t so memorable.
No. 3: Sept. 28, 2011 – Dan The Man helps Evan bring Heaven
The final week of the 2011 season was a crazy one in the AL East, with the Red Sox and Rays fighting down to the final moments for the Wild Card – and exactly seven days after the Yankees won the AL East at the expense of the Rays, they inadvertently helped Tampa Bay finish an epic comeback and earn a playoff berth.
The Rays had gone 5-1 since that clincher and needed a win and a Red Sox loss on the final day to claim the Wild Card, but things looked bleak entering the bottom of the eighth in Tampa, with the Rays down 7-0 to the Yankees and the Sox holding a 3-2 lead in Baltimore…but as they say, anything can happen, and in this case, it did.
Tampa Bay notched six runs in the eighth off the Yankees bullpen, with Evan Longoria’s three-run blast getting them within 7-6, and one inning later, with the Rays down to their last out, Dan Johnson (who is now in the Yankees system at Triple-A Scranton) launched a game-tying homer off Cory Wade to complete the comeback phase – and, seeing how the Orioles had rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to win that game 4-3 and complete Boston’s collapse, gave the rays and their fans new life.
Three innings later, it would once again be Longoria playing the hero, as he belted a Scott Proctor pitch just inside the left field foul pole to give the Rays an 8-7 win and send them into the postseason.
No. 2: Sept. 21, 2011 – Hip Hip, Jorge!
Two days after Mariano Rivera recorded career save No. 602, the Yankees found themselves on the precipice of another milestone: winning their 16th AL East crown. To do so on Sept. 21, 2011, all they would need to do was sweep a doubleheader against Tampa – the team who edged them out for the division title in 2010 – and have Boston lose to Baltimore.
The Sox obliged, and after winning Game 1 of the double-dip, the Yanks held their divisional fate in their own hands. CC Sabathia and Jeremy Hellickson put on a pitching duel, and the Rays ruined CC’s chances at a win by scoring in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 2-2.
Less than an hour later, with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth and the score still knotted, manager Joe Girardi went to his bench and called upon the beleaguered Jorge Posada, asking the veteran backstop to pinch-hit for the uber-prospect who had all but usurped his DH role that September, Jesus Montero…and the rest is history.
In the waning days of a glorious career, Posada gave himself and the Yankees Universe one last defining moment by stroking Brandon Gomes’ 0-1 pitch to right field for a two-run single, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead and bringing the capacity crowd – one that had already sat through a rain delay earlier for a moment like this – to its feet.
The Yankees of course went on to win the game and the AL East title, and Posada played his final game in pinstripes less than two weeks later.
No. 1: July 9, 2011 – DJ3K
We think this one needs no more hype, but it is perhaps the watershed moment in a first-ballot Hall of Fame career: Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit.
Jeter stood at 2,998 entering play on July 9, 2011, and faced a tough challenge in All-Star lefty David Price, but after lacing a single in the first inning, Jeter stepped up to the plate in the third on the verge of history. Of course, he made it by smashing Price’s payoff pitch over the left-center field wall and into the waiting hands of Christian Lopez, in the process becoming the first to reach 3,000 hits as a Yankee and just the second Major Leaguer to hit that milestone with a homer – following ex-Yank Wade Boggs, who somewhat fittingly accomplished that feat while with the Rays in 1998.