NEW YORK — As the race for the postseason continues to heat up, so have the tempers in the toughest division in baseball.
The Yankees clawed out a 4-2 win over the AL East rival Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, but not before tensions boiled over in the fifth inning when Toronto starter Alek Manoah hit Yankees All-Star Aaron Judge with a 92 mph fastball.
« Been struggling with my sinker for about five, six starts now, » Manoah explained after the game. « I made a pitch and it obviously hit Judge. I looked at him, said, ‘Man, you know, I’m not trying to do that.' »
With a runner on second and first base open, Manoah’s sinker hit Judge on the shoulder, the same spot in which he had barely missed earlier in the game. Visibly upset, Judge mouthed a few words to Manoah as he walked to the mound.
« [Judge] looked at me and he’s like, ‘That’s two,' » Manoah said. « In the first inning, I did mistakenly throw one up there as well. But obviously, in a situation like that, I’m trying to minimize baserunners. So I told him, ‘I’m not trying to do that.' »
Yankees starter Gerrit Cole, who took the loss on Saturday, came out of the dugout followed by several teammates during the tense exchange as Judge waved them off. The game was briefly halted but tempers settled, and Judge went to first base. Manoah walked over to talk to Judge and appeared to help defuse the situation.
Manoah said that he explained to Judge that it was trouble with his command, but there was no love lost for Cole’s fuming reaction.
« I think [Judge] understood that. And I think if Gerrit wants to do something, he can walk past the Audi sign next time, » Manoah said, referring to the luxury car brand logo sprayed on the grass by the visiting team dugout at Yankee Stadium.
When asked whether he had anything to do with it being Manoah specifically, and whether he believed he intended to hit Judge intentionally, Cole remained vague in his postgame comments.
« Not necessarily, » said Cole, who gave up 4 earned runs over 6 innings in the Yankees’ 5-2 loss to the Jays on Saturday. « Just a little one too many (batters hit by pitch) for my taste. I don’t know what to say. »
Manager Aaron Boone said he did not believe Manoah’s pitch was intentional, but defended Cole’s reaction.
« He doesn’t like our guy getting drilled, » Boone said. « Sometimes we get caught up in this intentional thing, like if it’s not intentional, then fine. Sometimes we have a different take on that. When your dude gets hit, it usually gets your attention. I think [Judge] handled it great. I thought Gerritt was just sticking up for his guy, for our guy. It’s just two division rivals, playing for a lot, a little moment in the game, not much to it. »
Judge, who also said that he believed there was no intent, described the incident as the emotional part of competition.
« It’s the heat of the moment. Nobody likes to get hit, » Judge said. « Everybody’s watching the game, everybody’s into it. No matter who gets hit everybody’s going to take exception to it. Dugout had a couple of things to say and then you move on. »
In terms of disclosing his conversation with Manoah, Judge said, « We’ll keep it between each other. »
And with the Yankees having lost 14 of their previous 17 games and looking to snap a three-game losing streak and avoid a sweep, Judge stated his focus was clear.
« At first you’re pissed, and I was pissed, but I didn’t need anybody else getting thrown out for me getting hit. I was just kind of moving on to the next play, » Judge said. « I know Rizzo had a big at-bat behind me. I’d be a little happier with getting a couple of runs instead of us brawling out there … We took care of business and moved on. »