The Dodgers had their “go-get-it-in-the-ocean” moment June 9, when a defiant Max Muncy told San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner that if he didn’t like the way he admired a long home run, he should fish the ball out of the bay beyond the right-field wall in Oracle Park.
The New York Yankees became “savages” on July 18, when second-year manager Aaron Boone, during a heated exchange with umpire Brennan Miller, coined the term that has come to define his club’s relentless approach at the plate.
Neither team needed a rallying cry at the time. The Dodgers were 11 games up in a National League West race they should wrap up around Labor Day. The Yankees were eight games up in an American League East race they still lead comfortably.
But it never hurts to inject a little edge, a little swagger, and to forge an identity during a grueling six-month season that can include stretches of drudgery for even the best of clubs.
And if the catchphrase ends up on a T-shirt? Hey, all the better.
“Any time something like that happens, it gets guys fired up, and it can definitely carry you for a little while,” veteran outfielder Brett Gardner said before the Yankees ravaged Dodgers ace Hyun-Jin Ryu in Friday night’s 10-2 victory.
“Listen, it’s a super long season, and anything you can do to break up the monotony of it all is good. The fans really took to it. You started seeing T-shirts and signs at the ballpark. It’s something that everyone kind of fed off.”
The YouTube video of Boone’s epic rant, mined from a YES Network field mic, has been viewed more than 5 million times. It starts with Boone jawing with Miller while a frustrated Gardner, after a called third strike in the previous at-bat, pounds the ceiling of the dugout with his bat.
When an outside pitch to D.J. LeMahieu is called a strike, Boone snaps at Miller and is ejected. Boone, the former third baseman who went from the ESPN booth to the Yankees dugout in 2018, walks briskly to the plate, thrusts two index fingers into Miller’s face and berates the umpire.
“My guys are … savages in that … box, right?” Boone screams. “And you’re having a real piece of … start to this game!” Boone claps in rhythm with his final four words to emphasize his point. “Tighten this ... up!”
The one-sided argument — Miller, a rookie umpire, didn’t say a word — took place in the third inning of an eventual doubleheader sweep of second-place Tampa Bay, the start of a monthlong stretch in which the Yankees won 23 of 32 games to push their record to 83-42 on Aug. 17.
Not until last week’s four-game losing streak, in which the Yankees scored nine runs while getting swept in a three-game series at Oakland, were these savage beasts tamed.
It was a temporary hold. New York drove up Ryu’s pitch count early Friday night and pummeled him for seven runs and nine hits, including solo homers by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and a fifth-inning grand slam by Didi Gregorius. Their bases-loaded, ninth-inning rally fell short in Saturday’s 2-1 loss.
“I think we’ve had that attitude all year,” outfielder Mike Tauchman said of Boone’s label. “Maybe that made it a little more public.”
This Yankees have a lethal blend of power and patience, a mix of veterans and youngsters who lay off pitches a smidge off the plate and punish mistakes. As good as the Dodgers are at grinding out at-bats, the Yankees may be more feisty.
They rank second in baseball with an average of 4.05 pitches seen per plate appearance. The Dodgers (4.01) are fifth. The Yankees lead baseball in 3-and-1 counts per plate appearance, getting to the most favorable hitting count 10.1% of the time. The Dodgers (9.9%) are second.
“When you can make pitchers fall behind not just once but twice, three times, and make him throw more pitches, that’s usually when they’re going to make a mistake and give you a better pitch to hit,” said Gardner, who has an .810 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 17 homers and 51 RBIs.
“We have a dangerous lineup top to bottom. Guys aren’t scared to come into the strike zone, but they’re a little more careful, and when they start doing that, you can really take advantage.”
A staggering number of injuries — the Yankees have sent a major league-high 28 players to the injured list this season — hasn’t slowed their march toward October.
New York leads the major leagues in runs (767) and ranks second in homers (238) and OPS (.832). The Dodgers have drawn more walks, but the Yankees rank ahead of them in runs, homers and OPS.
Sanchez (29 homers) and Judge (15 homers in 74 games) have provided their usual power while the Yankees await the return of injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton. LeMahieu (.330 average, .902 OPS, 21 homers, 86 RBIs) is having a career year.
Second-year infielder Gleyber Torres, 22, has 32 homers with a .904 OPS and 76 RBIs. Defensive whiz Gio Urshela, signed to play third base at triple-A, has provided surprising pop with a .333 average, .937 OPS and 18 homers. Tauchman (.295, .914 OPS, 12 homers) is having a breakout season in a platoon role.
“It’s a dangerous lineup,” Judge said. “One through nine, you have guys who can leave the ballpark. It’s a fun team to be a part of.”
The Yankees aren’t totally reliant on the homer. They also lead the league with a .300 average with runners in scoring position. But they’ve hit 58 homers in 24 games in August, a franchise record for homers in a month and tying the big league record for homers in a month shared by Baltimore (May 1987) and Seattle (May 1999).
“For us, it’s control the zone, create opportunities,” said Boone, the former Villa Park High School and USC standout. “We’ve done a better job with runners in scoring position … but slug is one of the biggest parts of a really good offense.”
The Yankees and Dodgers have the best records in their leagues, but both have flaws that were not addressed before the July 31 trade deadline. The Yankees failed to upgrade a rotation that drops off considerably after Domingo German, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka. The Dodgers failed to bolster a shaky bullpen.
If the Yankees and Dodgers meet in the World Series, they’ll be plenty familiar with each other, and not just because they met this weekend. Their offenses are virtual carbon copies of each other, the Yankees drawing the admiration of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts for doing what the Dodgers do so well.
“It’s actually fun to watch a team approach with really good players,” Roberts said. “I like guys who hunt pitches and have a plan, and if you don’t execute [against them], you can get hurt. That’s the good to great. That’s why teams like them and us run starters’ pitch counts up consistently and get to bullpens early.”