With the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry seemingly getting reduced by the day to one step above Royals-Twins, it appears we’re going to have to look for our nastiness somewhere else. Based on what happened Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla., I think we have a pretty safe early nominee.
Nationals vs. Phillies: The first of 19 meetings is a three-game set in the nation’s capital May 24-26. Mark it down.
The bad blood was brewing between the teams all last season and it perked up Wednesday in what was supposed to be a rare spring showcase of stars — Stephen Strasburg and Roy Halladay — facing each other.
Folks were in line for the last few tickets to the game four hours ahead of the first pitch and they saw a couple pitches, ahem, get away.
Strasburg plunked Chase Utley in the ankle in the third inning and Halladay responded by throwing behind Tyler Moore. Both, of course, claimed innocence but everyone in the house knew better.
“I don’t understand why they’d think I was throwing at them,” Strasburg said. “Obviously you can tell the conditions weren’t great (it was a dry, windy day) and I yanked it in there. It’s spring training.”
Asked if he retaliated, Halladay was smiling when he said, “It slipped.”
It should be noted that Halladay said when he got to camp last month that Utley told him Phillies hitters would like to see more protection this season. Halladay tried to pass that off as a joke. Uh-huh.
“Really, I think, we do need to protect our guys to an extent,” Halladay said Wednesday. “I’m not saying that’s what happened. It slipped. But that’s important. We’ve had a lot of guys hit over the years. As a staff, we need to do a good job of protecting those guys. Spring training, you’re not necessarily trying to do it. But it wouldn’t have been the worst thing had it got him after hitting one of our good guys.”
This all dates to last spring when the front offices began to spar. The Nationals were tired of too many Phillies fans in the seats at Nationals Park (think Sabres games at First Niagara Center against Toronto) and opened an initiative called “Take Back the Park.”
When individual tickets went on sale, the first series against the Phillies was limited to credit card holders from Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia. If you had a Pennsylvania address, you were out of luck.
“Forget you, Philly,” Nats CEO Andy Feffer said at the time in a classic rant to the Washington Post. “This is our park, this is our town, these are our fans, and it’s our time right now. ... We’re trying to build a team here, and nothing irks me personally or the people here more than to see another team’s fans — particularly Philly fans — in our ballpark, holding up signs. That’s not the way it should be.”
Philly fans still found their way there en masse via Stub Hub or bus tours, including one organized by a local sports talk radio host.
Bryce Harper got a welcome-to-the-bigs plunking in the hip on an ESPN Sunday Night game by Cole Hamels. The Nationals went on to break the Phillies’ five-year grip on the NL East and are picked by many to be a World Series team this year.
After last year’s season finale, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins drew the Nats’ ire by saying they would have been a second-place team if Philly was healthy. Nats outfielder Jayson Werth, the former Phillies star, shot back last month that his team might have won 120 games last year rather than 98 if not for their injuries.
Now they’re throwing at each other in spring training. The game behind the game.
Even Yanks GM is hurt
You know that old saying about waiting for the other shoe to drop? Two more fell at Yankees camp with the announcement that Mark Teixeira will be out 8-10 weeks with a wrist injury suffered at a World Baseball Classic workout and with Mariano Rivera’s decision that it will be Exit Sandman after this season.
But how about waiting for the GM to drop? Brian Cashman did a charity skydiving jump for the Wounded Warrior Project on Monday in Tampa and loved the experience so much he decided to do it a second time. Big mistake.
Cashman landed funky in his second jump and needed surgery after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle, which he said he heard pop on the landing.
Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com from the hospital that he’s very confident the Yankees are going to make the playoffs again, which would be 18 times in 19 years since the 1994 strike that ended the season.
“Look at our pitching staff,” Cashman said. “And we’re running out Robinson Cano, running out Derek Jeter, running out Kevin Youkilis, eventually running out Tex and Curtis Granderson, a 40-homer center fielder. We’re running out high-end players, so when we get our guys back healthy, we’re going to be fine.”
I might beg to differ. It would appear this is the year age is finally catching up to the Yankees, although Cashman correctly points out the age-ists have been on his team for a good long while and keep getting it wrong.
“People keep saying we’ve gotten too old, and we’ve defied that,” he said. “We were old and outdated when we beat the Mets in 2000, and when we went back to the World Series in ’01, ’03, and ’09 and got close in ’04.
“The story that we’re too old gets written so much that at some point they’ll be right. But it’s our job to prove them wrong and put a championship-caliber team on the field and see where it takes us.”
Fish tale by Angels
Lots of chatter around Angels camp about how reigning rookie of the year Mike Trout showed up in camp at 241 pounds. He insists it’s no biggie, although the jury remains out. What isn’t debatable is how silly Trout’s team acted when dealing with his contract.
The Angels renewed it for $510,000 last week, a mere $20,000 above the minimum. This for a guy who was second in the MVP voting. Terrible.
“During the process, on behalf of Mike, I asked only that the Angels compensate Mike fairly for his historic 2012 season, given his service time,” agent Craig Landis said in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “In my opinion, this contract falls well short of a ‘fair’ contract, and I have voiced this to the Angels throughout the process.”
If you have less than three years of service time, you have little leverage and make around the minimum, although the Cardinals tripled Albert Pujols contract to $600,000 in 2002 after his rookie year and the Yankees sent Derek Jeter from $130,000 to $550,000 in 1997 (Yes, Jeter made 130 grand the year he won his first World Series!).
“You could easily put yourself in a bad mood about it, but that’s not me,” Trout said. “I like to play baseball. I’m going to try to win a World Series.”
Still, this hasn’t been an easy spring for Trout. First came the news he was likely moving to left field to allow Peter Bourjos to play center. Now this. Trout’s early-season numbers certainly bear watching.
Around the horn
• St. Francis product Jim Negrych had a solid week in Blue Jays camp. He homered in the ninth Wednesday for the only Toronto run in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers and had a two-run double in an 11-10 loss to the Orioles. Negrych, likely to open as the Bisons’ second baseman, went into the weekend 6 for 14 for the Jays with four RBIs.
• Valentino Pascucci, the slugger who played for the Bisons parts of the last three seasons and won last year’s Triple-A Home Run Derby here, tweeted that he will start the season with the Reynosa Broncos of the Mexican League. Pascucci said he had a couple of minor-league offers but opted for the gig in Mexico at least to start the year.
• Your grain-of-salt warning on spring standings: The Royals were 11-0 until finally losing to the Mariners, 12-2, on Thursday. Seattle won 10 straight before a 7-6 loss on Wednesday to the Brewers and entered the weekend 11-3. You wonder if folks in New York are worried, though, with the Yankees just 3-10 through Friday and the Mets at 3-6.