Yankees drop first contest of 2023 to Blue Jays

NEW YORK — No active major leaguer has been hit by more pitches than Anthony Rizzo, whose career total of 205 has familiarized him with the intense feelings that can accompany those bumps, bruises and marks.

But as he watched Vladimir Guerrero Jr. watch rookie Greg Weissert in the Yankees’ 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday, the opening chapter of what should be another season of heated rivalry between the enemies of American League East, Rizzo delivered a message: “Just walk to first base.”

“He just kept looking at Greg, looking at him, and I objected to that,” Rizzo said. “He’s not trying to hit him there. We are not trying to hit him. Just play baseball. I’ve been hit multiple times in this game. I’ve very rarely looked at anyone when I absolutely know it wasn’t intentional at all.

Guerrero’s dive by Weissert happened in the ninth inning with the game seemingly decided, a 92.9 mph first-pitch sinker that hit the slugger’s left elbow.

Guerrero, who had homered and singled earlier in the contest, dropped his bat and glared at Weissert; seemingly unaware that Guerrero was focused on him, Weissert received a new fly ball and directed his attention to center field.

“I don’t really know what he was thinking, but obviously I wasn’t trying to hit him,” Weissert said. “I didn’t get my best stuff tonight.”

Rizzo came to his teammate’s defense, catching Guerrero’s attention along the first baseline. Plate umpire Adrian Johnson came between Rizzo and Guerrero, and although both managers briefly appeared on the field and the bullpen doors opened, the situation did not escalate.

“Much ado about nothing,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Blue Jays manager John Schneider echoed similar thoughts, saying he believed Weissert’s command was off.

“His lead is moving like crazy,” Schneider said. “It’s cold. I just think any hitter that gets hit isn’t thrilled. It’s nothing. He’s got a nasty lead to go with a nasty slider. He probably just slipped away from him.”

There have been tense exchanges between the Yankees and the Blue Jays in recent seasons. The situation was reminiscent of an incident last August 21 when Toronto ace Alek Manoah hit Aaron Judge with a pitch, which caused a loud roar from the Yankees bench – particularly Gerrit Cole, who gestured towards the mound .

Manoah would later say that if Cole “wants to do something, he can walk past the Audi sign (sprayed on the grass) next time.” Cole and Manoah, coincidentally, are set to start opposite each other on Saturday.

“They play their game, we play our game,” Rizzo said. “It’s a good team, we’re a good team. I think, naturally, the intensity is always high.

Weissert appreciated Rizzo’s display, saying, “I think it speaks to the kind of guys we have in this locker room. Everyone supports each other, and I’m grateful for that.

The late fireworks added spice to an otherwise sleepy affair for the home side. Oswaldo Cabrera hit his first home run of the season into the short porch of right field, but the Bombers’ bats were otherwise kept quiet by Yusei Kikuchi and three relievers.

“We had a few chances in there, but otherwise we couldn’t put together much,” Boone said. “I thought (Kikuchi) did a pretty good job of mixing.”

Guerrero — who reiterated ahead of Friday’s game that he loved playing against the Yankees and would never consider wearing the stripes — provided the necessary margin of victory in the first inning, hitting a dangling Domingo Germán curveball for a two-point circuit.

“After that I was more consistent and I was able to make some mechanical adjustments that allowed me to deepen the game,” Germán said through an interpreter. “I definitely felt more consistent in the execution of the throws after that first inning.”

Germán settled in, striking out 12 straight Blue Jays in one stretch, but he gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Belt in the sixth. Albert Abreu gave Belt a two-run brace in the eighth, a ball the judge nearly caught.

“We’re kind of grinding right now,” Boone said. “We do a lot of winning things on offense. We have a tough game tomorrow and hopefully we can get away from it all again.

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