Rays' Randy Arozarena says Yankees' Albert Abreu hit him 'on purpose' after bench-clearing incident

Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook (83) holds back Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena (56) after being hit by a pitch against the New York Yankees in the eighth inning at Tropicana Field.
Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook (83) holds back Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena (56) after being hit by a pitch against the New York Yankees in the eighth inning at Tropicana Field. / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The benches cleared and the bullpens emptied on two occasions during the bottom of the eighth inning in the Yankees’ 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field. While there was plenty of jawing and several players were held back by teammates, there were no physical altercations or ejections, but there were plenty of comments after the game.

The fireworks began when  New York reliever Albert Abreu’s 95.5 mph sinker on a 3-1 count ran in and struck Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena in the ribs. Arozarena, the fourth Tampa batter hit in the game Sunday, began to slam his bat down in frustration but stopped and began gesturing at Abreu before holding up two fingers, as it was the second time Abreu had hit him this season.

Home plate umpire Adam Beck and catcher Kyle Higashioka intervened but Abreu and Arozarena exchanged words leading the benches to empty. During the ensuing commotion, Arozarena and Tampa infielder Yandy Diaz, who was hit by a Jonathan Loaisiga pitch Friday and has not played since, became very agitated and had to be restrained by teammates.

After first baseman DJ LeMahieu cleared Abreu from the area, no player on the Yankees appeared agitated at all, with Aaron Judge having his back to the Rays and facing his own team.

"Right there after I hit him I tried to explain to him that I’m not trying to hit him, that’s not what I’m trying to do there,” Abreu said after the game, through an interpreter. “...but the reality is, I’m a sinkerball pitcher and in that moment I’m trying to execute my pitch, what I’m trying to create there is weak contact, that’s what I’m looking for at that moment. I'm definitely not trying to hit him, just trying to execute my pitch.”

Arozarena isn’t buying it.

“I think it was on purpose,” he told Bally Sports’ Tricia Whitaker.

“If you look back at previous series, he's hit me before, they hit and hurt Yandy the other day and they hit [Isaac] Paredes.”

Yankees relief pitcher Ian Hamilton hit Paredes in the head with a 95 mph fastball on the first pitch he threw after entering the game with two on and two out in the fifth inning.

When asked why he thought it was intentional, Arozarena said, “I don't know why, it just seems like they want to hit Randy. Coincidence it’s the same pitcher as last time…”

Hamilton, like Abreu, said it was unintentional as the two-seamer ran in on the Paredes. However, while Hamilton said he understood Tampa’s frustration, he was not interested in the theatrics of the Rays and Arozarena.

"I understand it,” he said of the Rays getting upset, “but at the same time, if they want to come over here, they can come over here, I guess. I wish we had another game against them."

Count Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe among those not buying the Yankee pitchers' explanations.

“Looking at it, it’s a last-place team against a team that’s in contention," Lowe said. "They’re just trying to ignite something over there. Whatever. Not worth our time at this moment. 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."

He added: "We need to focus up on what we need to do down the stretch. But if they lose a guy, it's not going to be quite as big of a deal as when we lose one of our guys."

Arozarena would follow by stealing second and later stealing third, which sparked a second bench-clearing incident as he and Abreu would again exchange words with players racing to separate the two.

"I couldn't really understand what he was saying there when he got to third base, but I can see that he's still agitated," Abreu said of the second skirmish, via the New York Dialy News' Gary Phillips. "He's taking it very personal and I'm trying to explain, 'I'm not trying to hit. you there.'

“It felt like he was trying to make fun of the situation or the fact that he stole two bases, I don't know. Just heat of the moment there."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who exchanged words with the Rays' Kevin Cash during the first bench-clearing incident, said he too got “the frustration” but “nothing is happening on purpose."

“They’ve had a few guys hit this series so I get it... just, obviously, some tempers got going,” he said.

Cash applauded Arozarena for "keeping his emotions just enough in check to where it didn't get out of hand."

"They don't like to be hit, no player likes to get hit and there's a level of frustration there,” Tampa’s skipper said. “...It's a scary moment when any player gets hit by a mid-90s fastball, certainly in the head like Isaac did. Is Hamilton trying to hit him on purpose? No, I’m very confident that he did not. That doesn’t make it less scary, though."