TAMPA — Though the 2021 season is a week old, the Yankees will get an unpleasant reminder about how last year ended when they visit the Rays on Friday for Tampa Bay’s home opener at Tropicana Field.
“They definitely got the best of us last year,’’ Brett Gardner said. “They were the better team. They beat us and moved on. There’s definitely a sour taste from that, and we’d like to get back on top, win the division and the American League and get to the World Series.”
First, they’ll have to watch Tampa Bay display its AL pennant.
“I hope this year we’ll take that crown from them,’’ Gardner said. “Seeing them raise the flag will bring back those memories and is a reminder that we need to get better.”
The ALDS ended when Aroldis Chapman allowed a game-winning homer to Mike Brosseau in Game 5.
It was the latest chapter in a contentious rivalry between the two teams, which intensified last season — mostly when Chapman threw a 100 mph fastball near Brosseau’s head during a game on Sept. 1 that resulted in Chapman being suspended for two games, a ban he served to begin this season.
As DJ LeMahieu said, there are many familiar faces from both teams this season — including Chapman and Brosseau, as well as Aaron Boone and Kevin Cash.
“We’re excited to go down there and play them again,’’ LeMahieu said.
The Rays won eight of the 10 regular-season matchups between the teams last season.
“I think there’s definitely, in their mind, some unfinished business, and that’s just going to fuel the rivalry a little bit more,’’ Brosseau said. “We’re going into the season knowing that they’re going to be right there with us.”
But Brosseau isn’t so sure how much of last season will continue into 2021.
“I don’t know if we expect too much to roll over from last year,’’ Brosseau said. “But I think just the general competition will be intense.”
Gardner expects it to be. He was among the players to address the team following their playoff defeat last October and explained what his message was to his teammates.
“The short of it was, ‘There’s no guarantees,’ ” Gardner said. “Things aren’t given to you. Last year, with the pandemic and the different things that we went through, nothing’s guaranteed. Nobody knows what the future looks like. I think our guys have come into camp and done a good job of getting our work in preparing for the season. We’re excited to get going.”
Boone remains unsure when Rougned Odor might be available to join the roster after going through COVID intake following his trade from the Rangers. … Justin Wilson is expected to come off the IL Friday after missing the beginning of the season with left shoulder tightness. The Yankees have played with just 25 players after optioning Michael King to the alternate site in Scranton, not wanting to use up a 40-man roster spot to bring someone up.