Rays beat Yankees in intense  series opener

LEAGUE BEST: The Tampa Bay Rays' Randy Arozarena celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Tropicana Field on Friday, May 5, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times/Tribune News Service

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Though the Rays are 10 games ahead of the Yankees in the standings, Friday’s first meeting of the season contained all the intensity and some of the hostility of years past.

The Rays won, 5-4, rallying for the go-ahead run in the seventh inning. The Yankees twice hit Randy Arozarena, who had homered in the first, sparking words between the dugouts and, after warnings were issued to both teams, the ejection of manager Kevin Cash.

With the win, the Rays improved their majors-best record to 27-6, matching the second-best 33-game start in the modern era, and dropped the last-place Yankees to 17-16. The Rays also became the first team in the modern era (since 1901) to win 18 of its first 20 home games.

The game was eventful from the start, with Arozarena in the middle of the action.

He started the Cinco de Mayo night in a festive way, homering with two outs on the first pitch he saw, the ball hitting a net atop the rays tank to the right of center field. That thrilled much of the Tropicana Field crowd of 25,007, especially those seated in the left-field section designated on Fridays as “Randy Land,” as his homer got them a free beer, soda or water.

The Rays added to their lead in the second, Isaac Parades walking to open the inning and scoring on a sacrifice fly. Yandy Diaz made it 3-0 when he homered to lead off the third, and Tampa Bay was positioned for more when Wander Franco followed with a double.

That’s when the action got heated.

Yankees starter Jhony Brito hit Arozarena with his first pitch, the ball striking his left elbow as he pulled it back to protect his ribs. Arozarena took a slow walk to first, and the Rays got a fourth run when Franco scored on a fielder’s choice grounder, Arozarena colliding slightly with second baseman Gleyber Torres as both moved away from second base.

Arozarena came up again in the fifth with one out and was hit again, on the second pitch by Albert Abreu, in the ribs. As Arozarena took another slow walk to first, carrying his bat part of the way, the umpires huddled and issued warnings to both dugouts. That means the pitcher can be ejected for any pitch the umpires deem to be intentionally thrown at a batter.

Cash didn’t agree and ran out to state his case to first base umpire Lance Barksdale, the crew chief. That didn’t go well, as Cash was ejected for the first time this season and 14th in his career.

Things got worse for the Rays, as the Yankees rallied for four runs in the sixth. Starter Yonny Chirinos created the mess with one out, allowing a single, RBI double and a walk. Reliever Garrett Cleavinger then made it worse, getting one out before allowing a three-run homer to Harrison Bader. In Cleavinger’s last outing Sunday in Chicago, he gave up a walk-off homer.

The Rays took the lead back in the seventh when Diaz scored from first on a double Franco laced to left that was misplayed by one-time Ray Jake Bauers. Diaz tried to score standing up and initially was called out. But a replay challenge by Rays bench coach Rodney Linares led to the call being overturned, as Diaz touched the plate before he was tagged by catcher Jose Trevino.