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Yankees Lose Again, Find Novel Way To Humiliate Themselves

Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts after scoring on a throwing error by Harrison Bader.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The New York Yankees are bombing out of postseason contention. Sunday they lost for the 12th time in 14 games to fall to a season-worst six games below .500, and 19 games back of the division-leading Baltimore Orioles, and 11 games back of the final American League wild card. Their vibes are curdling. Aaron Judge is getting tired of pretending after each dispiriting loss that the Yankees could still salvage their season; Aaron Boone is running out of ways to suggest that his miserable and terminally demoralized team can will their way out of this malaise. Brian Cashman recently called the season "a disaster." There is a solid statistical case that this is the worst Yankees team since 1992; several Defector staffers were not alive the last time the Yankees were this crummy.

Frustration is running high as the Yankees continue to find painful and infuriating ways to lose baseball games. Their bullpen blew two games late to the Washington Nationals last week; Saturday Yankees batters were held hitless into the sixth inning in St. Petersburg in an eventual shutout loss to the hated Rays. In Sunday's rubber match with Tampa Bay, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena scored the game's first run on an embarrassing sequence of throwing and fielding screw-ups. Arozarena singled to lead off the bottom of the first inning, then stole second. Kyle Higashioka's wild airmail of a throw sailed into center field, allowing Arozarena to advance to third. Harrison Bader's ill-advised throw was short and wide of third base and seemed to flummox third baseman Oswald Peraza, who we are expected to believe fields grounders professionally, and squirted past pitcher Carlos Rodón, backing up on the play. Arozarena bolted home and eluded a desperate tag from Higashioka, and the Rays were on the board. To add injury to insult, Brandon Lowe socked the very next pitch from Rodón to the moon for a solo dinger.

The Yankees were down a couple runs when Arozarena came up to bat in the eighth inning, to face reliever Albert Abreu. The 3–1 fastball that ran in and drilled Arozarena in the ribs did not look intentional, but retaliatory plunking had by this point in the game become a simmering subplot. Rodón plunked Osleivis Basabe in the first inning; Rays pitcher Zack Littell drilled Peraza in the fourth; Yankees reliever Ian Hamilton bounced a fastball off the helmet of Isaac Paredes in the fifth. This one looked accidental—Hamilton reportedly apologized to Paredes as Paredes made his way to first base—but it was scary and the Rays were pissed. Hamilton lost another fastball in the sixth and drilled Jonathan Aranda, as part of a pitching meltdown that led to a four-run inning for the Rays.

Because these teams famously hate each other, it is possible to believe that the Yankees intentionally plunked the Rays four times in a single game. On the other hand, because the Yankees are crud from the crustiest part of the crud pile, it is possible to believe that their pitchers are just that bad at throwing the ball. Whatever the case, Arozarena and Abreu have history: Abreu was the second Yankees pitcher to plunk Arozarena in a game on May 5, after Arozarena socked a first-inning dinger. When Abreu's fastball smashed off Arozarena's midsection Sunday, the situation came to a head, benches cleared, and a bunch of baseball men milled around on the infield grumpily until umpires restored order.

Arozarena, who was still fuming, stole second and third while Abreu faced Harold Ramirez. He then chirped at Abreu, and Abreu took exception, and once again benches cleared so that players could take turns theatrically holding each other back.

Arozarena, who rules, soon came home to score his third run of the game. He does not believe that Abreu's plunking was accidental. "It was a 3-1 count. I think it was on purpose," Arozarena said after the game, via a translator. "If you look back at previous series, he's hit me before. I've been hit in previous years before that." Abreu and Boone were adamant that it was accidental, but of course they would be: Baseball's unwritten rules may allow for intentional hit batsmen, but the written rules very much discourage the act.

The Yankees and Rays will not face each other again this year. Their regular-season series is over, and only one of them is headed anywhere close to the playoffs. Lowe, who drove in four runs on three hits Sunday, left the Yankees with the cruelest parting shot, referring to them as sad losers who are beneath the attention of a playoff team. "Looking at it, it's a last-place team against a team that's in contention," he said after the game. "They're trying to ignite something over there, whatever—not worth our time at this point. We're focused on bigger things right now than worrying about a little on-field scuffle. We need each game; they're not really in each game." Ouch.

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