NEW YORK — As the race for the postseason heats up, so do the heat in baseball’s toughest division.
The Yankees took a 4-2 win over AL East rival Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, but not before tensions flared in the fifth inning when Toronto starter Alek Manoah hit Yankees All-Star Aaron Judge with a 92 mph fastball.
“I’ve wrestled my sinker for about five, six starts now,” Manoah explained after the game. “I made a throw and it obviously hit Judge. I looked at him and said, ‘Man, you know, I’m trying not to do that.'”
With a runner open on second and first base, Manoah’s sinker hit Judge on the shoulder, the same spot he had narrowly missed earlier in the game. Visibly upset, Judge spoke a few words to Manoah as he walked toward the hill.
“[Judge] looked at me and he said, ‘That’s two,’ said Manoah. “In the first inning I also accidentally threw one up. But in such a situation I naturally try to minimize the number of runners. So I said to him, ‘I’m not trying to do that.'”
Yankees starter Gerrit Cole, who took the loss on Saturday, emerged from the dugout, followed by several teammates during the tense exchange as Judge waved them off. The game was briefly halted, but things calmed down and Judge moved to first base. Manoah walked over to Judge to talk to Judge and seemed to help defuse the situation.
Manoah said he explained to Judge it was a problem with his commando, but no love was lost for Cole’s furious reaction.
“I think [Judge] understood that. And I think if Gerrit wants to do something, he can walk past the Audi sign next time,” said Manoah, referring to the luxury car brand logo sprayed onto the grass by the visiting team’s dugout at Yankee Stadium. .
When asked if it had anything to do with it being Manoah specifically and whether he thought he intended to punch Judge intentionally, Cole remained vague in his post-match comments.
“Not necessarily,” said Cole, who gave up four earned runs in six innings on Saturday in the Yankees’ 5-2 loss to the Jays. “A Little Too Much” [batters hit by pitch] for my taste. I don’t know what to say.”
Manager Aaron Boone said he didn’t believe Manoah’s pitch was intentional, but defended Cole’s response.
“He doesn’t like our man being drilled,” Boone said. “Sometimes we get caught up in this intentional thing, like 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 guess [Judge] did a great job. I thought Gerrit was just standing up for his man, for our man. They’re just rivals from two divisions, playing a lot, a small moment in the game, not much going on.”
Judge, who also said he believed there was no intent, described the incident as the emotional part of the competition.
“It’s the hottest part of the day. Nobody likes to be hit,” Judge said. “Everyone watches the game, everyone participates. It doesn’t matter who gets hit, everyone will make an exception. Dugout had a few things to say and then you move on.”
In terms of revealing his conversation with Manoah, Judge said, “We’ll keep it between us.”
And since the Yankees had lost 14 of their previous 17 games and were looking for a three-game losing streak and avoiding a sweep, Judge stated his focus was clear.
“At first you were angry, and I was angry, but I didn’t need anyone else to get kicked out to hit me. I just moved on to the next part,” Judge said. “I know [Anthony] Rizzo had a big at bat behind me. I’d be a little happier with a few runs instead of fighting us out there. … We settled things and moved on.”
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