ST. PETERSBURG — Rays at Yankees. Need we say more?
When the Rays head to the Bronx for Monday’s opener of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium, there’s little need for buildup. There’s well-documented bad blood between the teams — dating back a few seasons — and the heat of an American League East division race only accentuates the urgency.
“A lot of it has to do with their attitude toward us … they hate us,” Rays reliever Ryan Thompson said. “It’s easy for us to get more excited to play those guys, just how they’ve behaved in the last couple of years with us pitching inside (then) their throwing at our guys.
“We don’t have any reservations about it. We just go out there like we’re going to beat those guys. They can talk all the talk they want. They can throw at our guys. We’re going to beat them. The last two years, we have definitely done that.”
The Rays eliminated the Yankees in last season’s five-game AL Division Series. The Rays have won five of the six meetings this season, including a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium on April 16-18, while capturing eight of the 10 regular-season games in 2020.
Rays manager Kevin Cash was a bit more measured in his comments about the Yankees.
“I don’t really feel anything different,” Cash said. “I feel like we’re playing a really good team. These are two very good teams competing. You’ve got to be on your game to find ways to beat them.”
King of the Hill
Left-hander Rich Hill, who has been dominant during his last six starts (2-2, 1.26 ERA, including a career-high 13 strikeouts with no walks Tuesday against the Royals), said he relishes Monday’s opportunity to pitch against the Yankees. He generally enjoys playing in New York (he made 14 appearances as a Yankee in 2014) and appreciates the passion and history of Yankee Stadium.
“I’ve played in every division and this (AL East) is the toughest division in baseball,” Hill said. “It’s a grinder. Every team you’re playing has one through nine, guys who can hit home runs. I just want to do everything to put us in position to win and play with the intensity I always play with.”
“What has impressed me is how he has evolved as a pitcher and as a veteran presence,” said Cash, who briefly played with Hill in Boston, while serving as his bullpen coach in Cleveland. “He has been on as good a run as anybody in baseball the last (six) starts and we hope to see that continue.”
Brett Phillips, the Seminole High School product, was beaming after hitting a home run on his 27th birthday.
“That’s a pretty good gift to himself,” Cash said.
Phillips said it was the first time he has played in a major-league game on his birthday.
“To homer on my birthday, it doesn’t get any better than that other than the win,” he said. “The amount of texts I got from people watching was really cool. It was a great day overall and it’s going to be a happy flight (to New York).”
After the game, the Rays reinstated right-hander Luis Patino (right middle finger laceration) from the 10-day injured list, then optioned him to Triple-A Durham. … The Rays have hit 27 homers during their 15-1 spurt, including five from Mike Zunino. … Since the 2020 postseason, Zunino has 16 homers and 32 RBIs in 53 games (50 starts). … The Rays are 8-1 in their last nine home games after a 7-12 start. … Left-hander Josh Fleming (10-3) has the most wins in team history through 16 career appearances, breaking a tie with Rolando Arrojo.
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