Dolloff: Tigers Brawl Will Be Yankees’ Death Knell In AL East

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Despite the Red Sox’ recent hot streak, the Yankees have been able to stay close to the American League East leaders to this point. They wake up on Friday still just 4.5 games back. But damn if their THREE bench-clearing incidents with the Tigers on Friday weren’t the turning point that ultimately sends the Yanks spiraling downward.

In case you’ve been living in a mineshaft for the past 18 hours, the Yankees and Tigers engaged in a good old fashioned donnybrook during Thursday’s game, and it really was an all-timer. It started in the fifth inning when Tigers starter Michael Fulmer plunked Gary Sanchez (he’ll be back), then in the sixth inning the Yankees’ Tommy Kahnle fired back with a fastball near Miguel Cabrera’s gut.

And that’s when the fists started flying:

Cabrera will surely get a nice fat suspension for sparking the brawl with his shadow-boxing routine against Yankees catcher Austin Romine.

In the seventh, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances hit the Tigers’ James McCann directly in the helmet with a fastball, which got him immediately ejected. Betances claimed after the game that he didn’t throw at McCann’s head intentionally – and while it was a terrible look and obvious ejection, you could at least argue that he didn’t mean to throw that high.

But there’s no grey area with what the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez (No. 24) did during the Cabrera-Romine melee in the sixth. Sanchez’s sucker-punching of Cabrera, while he was pinned at the bottom of a pile, is right up there with the cheapest moves you’ll ever see in baseball:

BONUS: The Yankees’ relievers full-on sprinting from the bullpen during the brawl was probably the best part.

In all, eight players were ejected for the day’s events: Cabrera, Betances, Romine, Kahnle, Tigers pitcher Alex Wilson, Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Amazingly, Sanchez was not ejected for those sucker punches – but that only means he should face an even bigger suspension than he could have. It could be 10-plus games.

Normally, you’d think a brawl like this could galvanize the Yankees, and it might. But Sanchez’s absence from the Yankees lineup could be a devastating blow, as he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. He has batted .321 with 11 home runs in August, including a solo homer in the fourth inning on Thursday. Betances and Kahnle could also be in danger of suspensions, but fines could be more likely.

Still, Sanchez had been arguably the team’s biggest weapon in August and the No. 1 reason they were able to stay afloat in the AL East race in the first place. With Aaron Judge continuing to struggle, they needed Sanchez’s thump leading the way for their offense. Removing his bat from the lineup could only hurt them moving forward.

The Yankees will host the Red Sox for a four-game series starting next Thursday. Sanchez may not be there for it. That could be the end of their chances in the AL East. They could still hold onto their Wild Card spot, but losing Sanchez certainly won’t help their chances in that department.

Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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