OK, so it wasn’t Manny Ramirez vs. Roger Clemens with a Pedro Martinez throwdown of Don Zimmer. It wasn’t Bill Lee getting his shoulder unhinged and calling out “Steinbrenner’s Brown Shirts.’’ It wasn’t Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson rolling around Fenway’s home plate dirt. It wasn’t even Jim Lonborg hitting Thad Tillotson to trigger a Yankee Stadium brawl that featured Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli grappling with his New York City cop brother, Dave, on the infield lawn of the The House That Ruth Built.
This was mild by those lofty standards. This was, “Pardon me, I think you’re in my seat,’’ as you board a JetBlue flight to Fort Myers.
But it was still pretty darn good.
Crazy Joe Kelly, the perfect man for the job, drilled DH Tyler Austin with a 2-and-1 pitch in the seventh inning of a Yankees-Red Sox game Wednesday, triggering a benches-clearing episode that could be described as a mild brawl and certainly put new fire into this old rivalry. Punches were thrown and when it was over, Kelly’s uniform top was split open Stormy Daniels style, Kelly, Austin, and Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin were ejected, and it was Game On for Sox-Yankees, 2018.
“When someone comes on my property and I’m getting attacked, I’m going to defend myself,’’ said Kelly, who will probably be suspended.
“It happened,’’ said Brock Holt, who was in the middle of the first fracas in the third inning. “Typical Red Sox-Yankees. A four-hour game a couple of brawls, we’re right on track.’’
Sweet. Shots fired. This spoke to the passion and pathos of the old days and it was something to make you look forward to the Thursday night game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. And unlike the 2017 version of the Sox, who totally bollocksed the Manny Machado retaliation, the 2018 Sox took care of business in the moment. Correctly so.
All the hard feelings started in the third inning of the Yankees’ 10-7 win when Austin raised his left leg, Ty Cobb style, as he slid hard into Holt at second base on a routine force play. This action triggered benches and bullpens emptying from both sides of the baseball aisle. No punches were thrown in the episode, and the game proceeded, but it was a reminder that there’s extra emotion any time the Red Sox and Yankees are both good in the same season.
“He spiked my leg,’’ said Holt. “He cut it pretty good. I probably said something I shouldn’t have said, but it was a bad slide and he knows it was a bad slide.’’
The Sox appealed the play to get an automatic double play but were denied.
“I didn’t think it was a dirty slide,’’ said former Sox second baseman Jerry Remy. “But under the new rules, they are accustomed to not being touched. This wasn’t brutal. But under today’s stupid rules, I guess it could be considered a double play.’’
When I asked Sox manager Alex Cora, a former middle infielder, what he thought of the slide, he winked and said, “I probably would have turned the double play.’’
Unlike their John Farrell predecessors, the 2018 the Red Sox seem to know how to deal with these kinds of transgressions. Kelly cut to the chase when Austin came to bat in the seventh.
“I threw a pitch inside and hit him,’’ said Kelly. “It was one of those that got away. The umpire said, ‘Take your base,’ and other things went down.’’
Indeed. Austin slammed his bat into the ground and charged Kelly, while Kelly uttered, “Let’s go!’’
There were big bodies all over the Fenway lawn. Kelly emerged with a scratch on his neck and a lot of buttons gone from the front of his uniform.
“As soon as I saw [Aaron] Judge and [Giancarlo] Stanton coming, I started backing up,’’ admitted Holt. “I grabbed (flyweight) Ronald Torreyes.’’
From somewhere in the hardball universe, proving that the baseball gods are good, Pedro “Who is Karim Garcia?” Martinez tweeted, “The only thing I would have done different than Joe Kelly tonight is I would have hit Tyler Austin in his previous at-bat.’’
It was a nice demonstration of the Sox of 2018 vs. the Sox of 2017.
“It shows we’ve got each other’s backs,’’ said Holt. “That was a good one. It shows how close we are.’’
The series is 1-1. The rubber match is Thursday night. There are 17 more to play this season. And everyone is expecting retaliation.
“If I get hit I’ll take my base,’’ said Holt. “Hopefully we don’t fight anymore.”
Au contraire, Mr. Holt. A few more of these incidents are just what we need around here.
Red Sox-Yankees. Just like the old days.