The Yankees had just put the finishing touches on another dramatic victory over the Cleveland Indians, an American League powerhouse that could end up in their path in October. But no one was talking about Saturday afternoon’s highlights, including the multiple-home-run performance by Gleyber Torres or the team’s major league-best 15-3 record in August.
The conversation instead centered around a heated argument with the umpires in the bottom of the sixth inning that resulted in the ejections of the Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, C.C. Sabathia and Brett Gardner. This was no ordinary dispute: What started as a back-and-forth with the home plate umpire Ben May after Cameron Maybin was called out on strikes — resulting in Boone’s ejection — quickly escalated as Gardner was tossed by the first base umpire Phil Cuzzi for banging his bat against the top of the dugout.
So enraged was Gardner that he had to be restrained from going after Cuzzi. Gardner was tossed after a similar display of anger in Toronto last weekend and now believes he has “a target on my back,” he said, even though there’s no rule prohibiting such dugout behavior.
“I guess I was ejected for making too much noise. I wasn’t happy about it,” Gardner said following Saturday’s 6-5 win. “Almost on a daily basis I do things to get our guys fired up; I felt it was a big point in the game against a really good opponent. The last thing I’m trying to do is leave that game early.”
He paused and then added dryly: “Maybe I can use something else to hit something else. Maybe I can take a helmet to the helmet rack and that’s not as loud. And that’ll be O.K.”
Gardner then offered a final, salient thought.
“No one’s told me I can’t do that.”
The umpires’ postgame response was vague, at best. “There was an ejection of Boone, and things then got out of control,” said Tom Hallion, the crew chief. “So, I’m not sure. I wasn’t the one who ejected him.” He added that more information would “be in the report in New York.”
Neither May, a minor-league call-up, nor Cuzzi was made available to a pool reporter.
It seems likely that the commissioner’s office will issue a clarification about what umpires will and will not tolerate from angry players; Gardner’s bat-banging days are probably over. Currently, any on-field argument regarding balls and strikes results in an immediate ejection. Boone knew he’d be tossed the moment he left the dugout in defense of Maybin, but the Yankees’ point of contention was the umpires’ overall attitude toward them.
“They’ve been looking in the dugout quite often,” Gardner said. “I guess I can understand coming over and telling me to knock it off, telling me I’m making too much noise. But to come over with the rabbit ears, looking for something — I thought it was pretty quick.”
Maybin agreed and suggested that May incited the Yankees by “staring into the dugout” after the called third strike from Nick Wittgren. “He didn’t need to do that. You take the bat out of my hands, it changes the shape of the game.”
The Yankees could be grateful for this much: Their back-to-back victories over the Indians highlighted two consistent assets in the closer Aroldis Chapman, who picked up his second save in less than 24 hours, and Torres, who now leads the majors this season with multiple home runs in seven games.
Even with 29 homers, Torres continues to insist that he’s not a power hitter — “I’m just trying to make contact” — but he’s nevertheless making history. Only one Yankees middle infielder in the last 100 years has led the club in home runs (Robinson Cano with 27 in 2013). Not only has Torres surpassed Cano, but he has enabled the Yankees to absorb Aaron Judge’s monthlong slump and Giancarlo Stanton’s long-running absence this summer.
And talk about timing: Torres’ blast off Wittgren in the sixth inning off proved decisive, allowing the Yankees to keep plowing ahead on a blistering run. They’ve won 16 of 19 and are 41 games over .500. The last time the Yankees flew this high was in 2009, which just happens to be when they won their last world championship.