TORONTO — There had been other moments over the past few years that served as kindling and stoked the flames, though the rivalry between the Yankees and Blue Jays had not quite caught on full-blown fire.
Until this week, that is.
The four-game series between the AL East foes at Rogers Centre ran the gamut of absurdity, and by the time the Yankees flew out of Canada late Thursday night, it seemed like a miracle the benches never cleared for an all-out brawl.
There’s always September — which seems light years away, but that is the reality of the new balanced schedule, which cut out two series per season, reducing the number of games between in-division teams from 19 to just 13.
If anything, the decrease in divisional games only has intensified the showdowns they do have, with this series dripping in drama.
A quick recap: There were allegations of Aaron Judge cheating and a subsequent scrutiny on his eyeballs; actual rule-breaking by Domingo German and his sticky right hand; petty complaints about where base coaches were standing, which led to Blue Jays manager John Schneider yelling, “Shut up, fat boy,” at Yankees assistant hitting coach Brad Wilkerson; a 10th-inning walkoff; and Judge leaning into the villain role with four home runs and a new celebration in which he covered his eyes with his hand.
Did we miss anything?
“I think this division in general, it kind of feels like the old-school — when I played, when Boonie [Aaron Boone] played — rivalries,” said Wilkerson, who played in the majors from 2001-2008, with his final season coming in Toronto. “There’s a lot of good teams. [The Blue Jays] have a great team over there. We got to focus on what we have to do in our dugout with our guys because there’s a lot of great teams. We can’t let outside noise distract us.”
The Yankees have largely stuck to that mantra this week, despite things hitting the fan around them.
“It’s just the AL East — it’s a different animal,” said Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who turned in a strong game Tuesday night (2-for-3 with a double, home run, walk and three runs scored) that got buried in the midst of all the other chaos.
But while the Yankees have had a long history of feuding with the Red Sox and a more recent one with the Rays and their “whole damn stable of pitchers that throw 98 miles per hour,” their rivalry with the Blue Jays has been building over the last few years.
There was Luis Severino and Alek Manoah chirping at each other last April, and then by August, it was Manoah hitting Judge with a fastball, Gerrit Cole taking a few steps out of the dugout to yell at Manoah, and Manoah saying postgame, “If Gerrit wants to do something, he can walk past the Audi sign next time.” The tensions were even fueled over the offseason, when Manoah called Cole the “worst cheater in baseball history” and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. vowed he would “never sign with the Yankees — not even dead.”
The first series between the teams this season, at Yankee Stadium in April, was relatively quiet besides a Yankees walkoff. But the rematch this week north of the border has quickly made up for that with no lack of chippiness.
“Hey, it’s competition,” Wilkerson said. “Competition is good. I think the fans love it. Obviously you don’t want to go across certain lines with it, hopefully. But it is fun. It’s fun to play in a great division, and our schedule’s been unbelievable so far. We’ve really responded.”
A quality rivalry typically takes two good teams, and with the Blue Jays re-entering the thick of the division race over the past few seasons, the stage has been set for fireworks.
“Whenever there’s two good teams that are familiar with one another, yeah, it can get a little competitive and heated at times,” Schneider said. “You probably do or say some things that you wouldn’t say if it wasn’t the heat of the moment. You could say that about basically any team in our division right now, if you look up and down. When you have high-level athletes that are very competitive and coaches that are very competitive, you kind of see what you’re seeing a little bit.”
Want to catch a game? The Yankees schedule with links to buy tickets can be found here.
How sticky is too sticky?
If there are any engineers out there who can develop a tool to instantly identify a substance and measure exact levels of said substance on a hand, Major League Baseball should be willing to pay you whatever it takes.
German’s ejection Tuesday and subsequent 10-game suspension for a failed sticky-stuff inspection brought to light once again how subjective those checks can be.
MLB has left it up to the umpires to inspect hands, gloves, hats, belts and everything else. With 70-plus active umpires in the game, it’s impossible to have an objective standard for how sticky is too sticky.
Phil Cuzzi had been responsible for all three sticky-stuff ejections — Max Scherzer in April and Hector Santiago and Caleb Smith in 2021 — before Tuesday, when James Hoye’s crew decided German’s right hand was “the worst hand we’ve ever felt during a game.”
German insisted it was only rosin (from the bag on the back of the mound) and sweat. Hoye asserted it was “definitely not rosin.”
If German is telling the truth, it raises the question of how a pitcher should know how much rosin is too much.
“The reality is we should all have a very good idea of what the line is,” Boone said. “Apparently Domingo crossed it.”
“Look, there’s a dicey [component to it] because they always compare hands,” Boone said. “Of course there’s not going to be anything on the other hand. There’s not going to be any tack. So I don’t know what the line is. [Hoye] just said it was too sticky.”
Long-lost brothers in arms
On Monday afternoon at Rogers Centre, before the Yankees-Blue Jays circus kicked into gear, Bills quarterbacks Josh Allen, Matt Barkley and Kyle Allen took batting practice.
They put on a show with some impressive home runs, which a handful of Yankees came out to the dugout to watch.
Afterwards, Cole found Barkley behind home plate and shared an embrace.
The two men have walked eerily similar yet divergent paths to pro sports: Both Cole and Barkley were born in Newport Beach, Calif., on Sept. 8, 1990.
Cole went to Orange Lutheran High School, and Barkley went to its rival, Mater Dei, in Orange County.
Then Cole played baseball at UCLA and Barkley played football at its rival, USC.
The crazy part? Cole and Barkley had never met before Monday.
Down on the farm
On Wednesday, Will Warren was promoted from Double-A Somerset to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, putting one of the organization’s top pitching prospects one step closer to helping the Yankees.
The 23-year-old right-hander had posted a 2.45 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 29 ⅓ innings to start the season. The eighth-round pick in 2021 out of Southeastern Louisiana University left a strong impression on the organization last season, which was his first in pro ball.
The fast-rising Warren is not yet on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, but he likely will be before long, giving the Yankees some much-needed starting depth at the upper levels of the minors.
In his Triple-A debut Thursday night, Warren got the win, allowing two runs (on solo home runs) in six innings while striking out four and walking none.