Column originally published Oct. 12, 2003.
BOSTON—Red Sox trainer Jim Rowe engaged in small talk before yesterday’s game. “Think you’ll be icing any bruised ribs or forearms today?” he was asked.
“No way,” Rowe said with an emphatic shake of the head. “There’s too much at stake. You can’t be messing with that stuff now.”
The implication was clear. Even if brushback pitches ended Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, neither the Red Sox nor Yankees could afford to play the retribution game. It would have to wait until next season.
Such a sound theory. And yet so horribly, horribly wrong.
In what immediately goes down as one of the most perverse chapters in Red Sox-Yankees lore, the two squads yesterday engaged in a battle that only occasionally had anything to do with baseball.
It featured each team contemplating charging the mound—Boston’s Manny Ramirez with bat in hand—a near brawl at second base, a bench clearer that ended with Pedro Martinez playing matador to 72-year-old Don Zimmer, and finally Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson laying out a member of the grounds crew.
Final score: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3. I think. It got kind of hard to keep track.
“I didn’t have a ringside seat,” said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. “I’m going to need to see some replays. This was like the crazy stories you hear from winter ball in the ‘80s, when everyone was coked up.”
The only drug involved yesterday was testosterone, and it flowed like the Mystic. Much has been made of the nice-ification of baseball in recent years, with bitter rivals on the field close friends off it. The old-timers bristle at such fraternization, but if they tuned in yesterday, they’d have smiled through chipped teeth and stroked their scars wistfully.
This was a throwback Red Sox-Yankees encounter of Fisk-Munson proportions, which made sense given the identities of the starting pitchers. Both Martinez and Roger Clemens have made a career of staking a claim to the inner half of the plate (and sometimes the batter’s box) and they displayed their old-school wares yesterday.
The contretemps began in the fourth when Martinez buzzed a pitch over the back and off the shoulder of Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia, who had to be restrained from charging the mound. The Yankees had just scored a run and two on with no outs.
“It’s part of Pedro’s game,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “It’s intimidation. When he wants to drill someone, he does it. Our guys responded well.”
Garcia barked at Martinez in Spanish all the way to first. He took issue with being hit above the shoulders. The Red Sox took issue with Garcia’s screaming.
“You’ve got two choices in that situation,” Red Sox reliever Scott Sauerbeck said. “Either charge the mound and go get him, or go to first. Don’t sit there and talk.”
Garcia chose a third option. On Alfonso Soriano’s ensuing double play grounder, he took out second baseman Todd Walker with his knees and spikes high. Walker had to be restrained by Nomar Garciaparra. Both benches nearly emptied.
“It was a dirty play,” Walker said. “I was angry at the intent. But I can’t blame him. If I got a ball thrown at me the way he did, I probably would have done the same thing.”
Sauerbeck had never gotten a good look at Zimmer until introductions before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series in New York.
“I leaned over to Scott Williamson and said, ‘I really like Don Zimmer,’” Sauerbeck recalled. “‘He’s one of the cutest old guys I’ve ever seen. I’d love it if he were my grandpa.’”
Turns out grandpa isn’t as cute and cuddly as he looks. Last night the former Red Sox manager and baseball lifer took center stage by charging Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez and throwing a haymaker of a left hand that Martinez dodged while tossing him to the ground.
It was the most stunning image of a crazy game and the prime topic of conversation in each clubhouse after New York’s 4-3 victory.
“If I liked him before, I like him even more now for attacking Pedro,” Sauerbeck said. “That guy’s got a pair on him. Was what he did idiotic? Yes. Could he have hurt Petey? No. You can’t get that upset about it. The whole thing was kind of funny.”
No one was laughing at the time. It started after Manny Ramirez emptied both benches by threatening to charge Roger Clemens with a bat after a high fastball. Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez came onto the field and resumed a war of words with Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, causing Zimmer to lose it.
The septuagenarian tore across the field like a rhino and tossed a left at Martinez’ head. Martinez sidestepped Zimmer, put his hands on Zimmer’s neck, and let his momentum carry him to the ground.
Red Sox reliever Todd Jones was one of the first to Zimmer’s side and he tried to help the coach up.
“He said, ‘I don’t have a problem with any of you guys. I want to get Pedro,’” Jones said. “I was worried because he’s an old man and he fell over pretty hard. I tried to pick him up. I didn’t want to see him get stepped on.”
Zimmer went to Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center after the game and was expected to be fine. Sporting a bandage over the bridge of his nose, he refused comment.
“I have great respect for Don Zimmer,” said Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker. “But he put himself at risk by charging Pedro Martinez. I saw the bull rush from the 72-year-old man. He was pretty fired up, but Pedro has a right to defend himself.”
The irony is that Zimmer and Martinez didn’t start it. Clemens and Ramirez did.
Ramirez jackknifed exaggeratedly as a pitch was thrown high and he unleashed a torrent of expletives. It looked like he wanted to fight. Clemens responded in kind, Ramirez advanced halfway to the mound with his bat, and both dugouts emptied.
“Manny’s pitch wasn’t even close,” said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. “It was high. He overreacted.”
Then it got downright freakish. What was billed as a heavyweight bout between Martinez and Clemens quickly devolved into a Fox Celebrity Boxing match between Martinez and Zimmer.
As the benches emptied, Martinez pointed at his right temple and shouted at Posada, “I’ll hit you right here.” That enraged Zimmer, who bull rushed across the field and threw a left cross at Martinez in front of the Red Sox dugout. Martinez parried it by tossing Zimmer to the ground.
“I was trying to dodge him away and push him away and the body fell,” Martinez said. “I was shocked. Completely shocked. I hope he’s OK. OK?”
The craziness ended in the ninth when Paul Williams, a member of the grounds crew assigned to the Yankees bullpen, waved a Red Sox towel after a double play. Nelson said he asked the man to stop, they exchanged words, and shortly thereafter exchanged fists. Garcia vaulted the right field wall to land shots of his own. Williams ended up in the hospital with cleat lacerations.
“This was built up to be a great matchup, it was a great matchup, and then the ending was ridiculous,” Nelson said. “I said if he wanted to root for the Red Sox, go to their bullpen. Then all of a sudden he grabbed me.”
The Red Sox told a different tale, claiming the attack on the part-time schoolteacher for the handicapped (could we even make this up?) was unprovoked. But that will all get sorted out in the next day or two.
What’s clear is this—Red Sox-Yankees remains just as feisty as ever. Epstein assured “the focus will be back on the field tomorrow,” but that seems kind of hard to believe.
The fisticuffsmanship resumes tonight. The opening bell sounds at 8 p.m.