Well, the Yankees certainly had an eventful trip to St. Petersburg today. It all started a few hours before game time, when the team announced that Andy Pettitte would be skipping his scheduled start today due to some tightness on the outside of his pitching elbow which was also described as muscle irritation and by Pettitte as a bit of tendonitis (more below). Then, during batting practice, 64-year-old special adviser and former Yankee manager Stump Merrill took a thrown ball to the mouth and was taken to the hospital on a stretcher, awake and alert, but with his head immobilized and a trickle of blood running down his left cheek.
As if that wasn't enough, replacement starter Heath Phillips was rocked in the first inning and clearly rattled as evidenced by a rare balk. With two out, two on, and the Yanks already trailing 2-0, Phillips came up and in to seventh-place hitter Evan Longoria. The pitch brushed the Rays' third base prospect across the chest and, given the rising tensions between the two clubs ever since Yankee catching prospect Francisco Cervelli had his arm broken in a home plate collision in the ninth inning of their last meeting on Saturday, home plate umpire Chad Fairchild tossed Phillips from the game.
Shelley Duncan, who had issues some veiled threats to the Rays over the last three days, led off the top of the second with a single off Longoria's glove and attempted to stretch it into a double as the ball trickled away from the third baseman. Duncan was out by a lot and thus resorted to plan B, which, depending on who you believe, was either to kick the ball out of second baseman Akinori Iwamura's glove, or to use this opportunity to get even with the Rays by spiking the second baseman in the thigh. Regardless of his intent, the latter was what actually happened. Seeing this, hot-headed right fielder Johnny Gomes charged in from the outfield and body-checked Duncan from behind. The hit sent Duncan out toward shortstop and both Duncan and Gomes were immediately restrained as the benches cleared. Duncan and Gomes were subsequently ejected along with Yankee coaches Bobby Meacham and Kevin Long (though no word yet as to why those two also got the thumb).
The game proceeded without further incident from there and the post-game quotes, as one might have expected, saw the Rays and Yankees switch roles, with the Yankees defending Duncan as simply playing hard and aggressive baseball, and the Rays being appalled and offended. I've only seen snapshots of the play, but given Duncan's comments over the last few days, his at-times dangerous enthusiasm, and those incriminating photos (though this one is both less damning and a more accurate snap of the actual slide), I am willing to call this a much dirtier play than the one Elliot Johnson made on Cervelli on Saturday, though thankfully one with less dire consequences (Iwamura got a gash on his thigh, but stayed in the game). I just hope all this foolishness ends here, as the Yanks and Rays will meet again a week from Friday.
Update: Here's some (poor) video of Duncan's single.
As for the rest of the game . . .
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
L - Robinson Cano (2B)
L - Bobby Abreu (RF)
R - Shelley Duncan (1B)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
L - Hideki Matusi (DH)
R - Morgan Ensberg (3B)
S - Wilson Betemit (SS)
L - Greg Porter (LF)
Pitchers: Heath Phillips, Scott Patterson, LaTroy Hawkins, Ross Ohlendorf, Sean Henn, Dan Giese, Jonathan Albaladejo
Subs: Jason Lane (1B), Bernie Castro (PR/2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Brett Gardner (PR/CF), Justin Christian (PR/LF), Nick Green (PR/DH). Betemit finished the game at first base. Porter finished the game in right field.
Opposition: The Devil Rays' starters except, unsurprisingly, catcher Dioner Navarro.
Big Hits: Doubles by Robinson Cano (2 for 3) and Jorge Posada (1 for 3). Cano was the only Yankee with a multi-hit game.
Who Pitched Well: Ross Ohlendorf rebounded from his rough outing in the inning in which Cervelli was injured to pitch a perfect fifth inning while striking out one, though his other two outs came in the air. Scott Patterson allowed his first baserunner of the spring on a double by the wounded Iwamura, but retired the other four men he faced, two via strikeout.
Who Didn't: Heath Phillips allowed two runs on a walk, a balk, and three hits (one a double by Carl Crawford) and recorded just two outs before grazing Evan Longoria with a pitch and being ejected. Jonathan Albaladejo's hopes of making the team took a mighty blow as he coughed up three runs on a walk and three hits, including doubles by minor league vets John Rodriguez and Jon Weber. Ditto Dan Giese, who allowed two runs on a solo homer by veteran minor league middle infielder Ronnie Merrill, a walk, and a single. To make matters worse for that two, Giese blew a 3-2 lead in the seventh and, after the Yankees rallied to reclaim the lead at 6-4 in the top of the eighth, Albaladejo blew it again and took the loss. By comparison, Sean Henn and LaTroy Hawkins's scoreless work looks good, but Hawkins allowed four baserunners (a walk, two singles and a double) in his two innings of work and didn't get a single out on the ground, and Henn allowed three baserunners (two singles and a walk) in his lone frame, though he also struck out the side.
Hot Wheels: The Yankees subs stole second base three times against Rays' backup catcher Josh Paul, once each by Brett Gardner, Bernie Castro, and Nick Green.
Nice Plays: In contrast, Jorge Posada threw out the only attempting Ray's runnner, nabbing Jason Bartlett at second with Hawkins on the mound.
Ouchies: Thankfully no injuries resulted from the Duncan incident, which is just as well, as the Yanks had enough to worry about before the game. Pettitte's elbow soreness is supposedly unrelated to any of his prior elbow problems. Skipping his start today was said to be purely precautionary. The Yankees said that Pettitte would have made the start had this been the regular season and is expected to take his next turn. Pettitte said the tightness went away after he warmed up and that he pleaded to pitch today. Still, it bears watching. Pete Abe has audio from Andy himself here. Tyler Kepner reports that Jason Giambi skipped the trip because of lower back pain, though that's also described as minor. No word yet on Merrill's condition.