With the New York Yankees coming to town for a three-game series this weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays may need the heat of 2020's most fiery rivalry to get their season going.
The clubs will square off Friday afternoon in Tampa Bay's home opener, with the Rays raising their 2020 American League Champions banner to the top of Tropicana Field.
In a shortened 60-game season, the bitter feelings between the two AL rivals played out last summer and ended with one majestic postseason swing by the Rays' Mike Brosseau.
On Sept. 1 at Yankee Stadium, the tension escalated when Masahiro Tanaka hit Joey Wendle in the first inning, and later New York's Aroldis Chapman fired a 101-mph heater near Brosseau's head -- the third pitch up near him.
Chapman struck out Brosseau to end the Yankees' 5-3 win, but words were exchanged, the benches emptied but no punches were thrown.
In his postgame press conference, angry Rays manager Kevin Cash lashed out, sending a message to counterpart Aaron Boone and the Yankees: "I have a whole damn stable of guys that throw 98 mph. Period."
In the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS in San Diego on Oct. 9, Brosseau got the last word in an epic 10-pitch at-bat in the eighth inning.
With the game knotted at 1, he ripped Chapman's 100-mph offering into Petco Park's left-center field seats for a 2-1 Tampa Bay win to lift the Rays to the ALCS against the Houston Astros.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said his team, which has split its six games, is ready to move on from the bad memories of a campaign that left the Yankees seven games behind the AL champions after losing of eight of 10 against them.
"There's definitely a sour taste in our mouth from that," said Gardner.
However, the Rays are reeling, losing four straight and being outscored 42-23 in the young season.
They were trounced 9-2 Wednesday by the Red Sox in Boston as Ryan Yarbrough continued his struggles as a starting pitcher, allowing nine runs -- six earned -- on nine hits and lasted just five innings.
"We just have not been playing good baseball the last couple days," Cash assessed.
The manager won't have three-time Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier in the lineup -- a hard-nosed, heart-and-soul player who won't hesitate to run into a wall to record an out.
Kiermaier, 30, is sidelined by tightness in his left quadriceps.
"Concerning," Cash said. "Not ideal."
Left-hander Rich Hill (0-0, 9.00) will make his second start after a no-decision against the Marlins on Saturday. Hill, 41, is 1-2 with a 4.79 ERA in 11 career appearances -- three starts -- against the Yankees.
New York allowed only four hits Wednesday but dropped a 4-3 decision in 11 innings to Baltimore, allowing the Orioles to snap a 12-game road losing streak against the Yankees.
Right-hander Corey Kluber (0-0, 2.25) will make his second start for the Yankees after working four innings against Toronto on Saturday.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner holds a 5-2 record with a 2.67 ERA in 10 career starts against the Rays.
Slugger Aaron Judge (side soreness) was not in Wednesday's lineup, but it was primarily for precautionary reasons.
"I think it's been just the general wear and tear of the first several days," said Boone.
--Field Level Media