Friday, June 6, 2008

Sox Sweep Rays as Emotions Boil Over

Yesterday I wondered if Joe Maddon would follow in Lou Piniella's footsteps and retaliate for Coco Crisp's hard slide into second base the night before, or if Joe would keep a level head and focus on leading his Rays to a win over the Red Sox to regain first place in the AL East. That question was answered quickly last night when Coco came up to bat in the second inning. Tampa starter, James Shields, fired his first pitch right at Crisp, grazing his leg as Crisp jumped out of the way. Crisp was waiting for that, and charged the mound setting off a bench clearing brawl. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the scuffle that ensued. Who is right and who is wrong in all of this? I'll tell you. Everyone was wrong, no one involved was right.

Let's start with Coco. When he slid into second base last night and shortstop, Jason Bartlett, blocked the bag with his leg, Coco jammed his thumb. Bartlett's blocking of the bag with his leg was not incredibly honorable, but not illegal. If the runner slides in feet first, you won't see it happen. However, I don't believe Jason was trying to hurt Crisp in any way, he was only trying to ensure the out. Crisp over-reacted, and for some reason let that mild offense just eat at him. Later in the game, he had set his mind on revenge. Now, on his next attempted steal, if Bartlett was again covering the bag, and Crisp slid in hard to take him out, that would not be so bad - eye for an eye. I don't even think Bartlett would have been surprised, and as long as no one got hurt, it probably would have ended with a few choice words. But, Iwamura covered that bag, not Bartlett. This did not matter to Coco - he jammed his thumb - someone was going to pay. First big mistake. Coco did slide in hard, and the Rays took offense, BUT, no one got hurt, Crisp made his point, and the Rays got to tell the world what a jerk Crisp was.

Coco CrispThat brings us to last night. Joe Maddon obviously gave the green light to plunk Crisp. A win last night would have put the Rays in first place. Perhaps Joe thought back to the battle between Jason Varitek and A-Rod a few years ago and how that seemed to spark the Red Sox. Maybe. But Joe, throwing at a batter intentionally, and knowing it would incite a riot, would surely get your starter ejected from the game. Why do that in the second inning? Why not wait until late in the game? As it went, Shields did get ejected, and Maddon had to use 6 pitchers to get through the game - a convincing 7-1 spanking. Lucky the riot did not injure anyone Joe! Shields did do one thing right. He threw at Crisp's thigh area - not his head.

BrawlWhy Crisp got so hot headed over all this is a mystery. He has generally been very calm and rational since joining the Red Sox. Crisp let it eat him up the day before and carried in to last night's game, just waiting for the fireworks to begin. Either he has a bad temper that rarely comes out, or he has some pent up issues that have been waiting to burst out (sharing time with Ellsbury maybe?). Crisp also knew that he'd be ejected. With Big Papi already out, and Manny Ramirez nursing a sore hamstring, why get yourself thrown from the game? He could have taken the first base, stolen second (feet first) and third and scored. At that point you glare back to say - "take that!". But, no, he goes and gets thrown out of the game, and will likely be suspended.

Red Sox and Mariners BrawlThe bizarre night continued when Manny and Kevin Youkilis got into some kind of fight between innings in the Red Sox dugout and had to be separated. We may never learn what incited that one, but something odd is going on here. If not for that foolish incident, I may have crowned Manny the hero of the game. He did go 2 for 3, hit a 3 run home run, and a two RBI single filling in for Big Papi as the DH. But, fighting in the dugout strips you of that award. Manny was also removed in the 7th inning when he tweaked his hamstring jumping back from an inside pitch. He went to first and wanted to stay in the game, but Francona wisely pulled him, just to be safe. Apparently, he is doing okay, and I expect he'll be in the lineup as DH again tonight.

But the hero of the game, in my book, was Jon Lester. Lester pitched a very nice game, allowing only one run in 6 1/3 innings, giving up 8 hits. but no walks and 5 strike outs. Lester wins the hero award, not only for pitching well, but for playing with intensity, but appearing oblivious to all the craziness around him. Case in the fourth inning, Cliff Floyd came up to bat. Lester threw a pitch inside that came close to hitting him. Floyd jerked back and avoided the pitch with relative ease, but with tensions already stretched, that was the sort of thing that could set another melee in motion. Floyd squared his shoulders, puffed up a bit, and glared at Lester taking a slight move towards the mound - trying to judge Lester's intent. Lester was a rock. He stood his ground, stared right back, but not with an malice whatsoever. He stared back as a competitor, as if to say, "are you done now, can you get back in the box so I can strike you out?". Lester was not to be intimidated, and Floyd saw that. He crawled back into the batters' box and did indeed strike out. On his return to the dugout, he glared at Lester the whole way. Lester did not even notice - he had a game to play. "This is not hockey", he thought, "this is baseball. I'll do my talking with my pitches". He kept up his intensity all game. He even hit two batters as the game progressed, but made it clear through his demeanor that neither was with intent. Hero of the game, Jon Lester.

Jacoby EllsburyBut wait, there's more. Also in the 4th inning, Jacoby Ellsbury made a sweet diving catch of a ball hit to center field. As he slid, his glove rolled under, much like what happened to JD Drew earlier in the season, and he sprained his wrist. Ellsbury came out of the game. His wrist is sore but seems to be structurally intact. I expect he'll get a day or so to rest it, depending on how it feels each day. With Manny's hammy hurting, Crisp ejected, and now Ellsbury out, Francona looked down his bench and did not see any outfielders he could send in. So, for the second time this season, Kevin Youkilis was recruited to play right field, Chris Carter (also primarily a first baseman) was already playing left field in Coco's absence. I wager that may be the first time in Sox history the outfield corner positions were both being manned by first basemen.

With the outfield situation looking questionable, the Sox had to, unfortunately, send Chris Carter back to Pawtucket after the game in order to call up Brandon Moss, an actual outfielder. Carter enjoyed his first games ever in the majors. Last night he had two hits and scored two runs, and will hopefully get a chance to contribute some more in the future.

Tonight, our Great Hispanic Hope, Bartolo colon, goes for his fourth win for the Sox. I'm not sure I feel confident about this one. There are a couple of things that worry me. The first is the mental and physical state of the Red Sox. Can they mentally settle back down and get back to solid baseball tonight? And how will Manny's hamstring and Ellsbury's wrist affect the lineup? If they are both out, it will hurt quite a bit. Also, the Mariners are on a 4 game losing streak, and have their best starter, Felix Hernandez, going tonight. Losing streaks always end, and number one starters are usually the ones to end them. Hopefully, the Sox got a good night's sleep, and Brandon Moss comes up with energy to give them a spark to get right back on the attack. The Mariners are in possession of the worst record in baseball right now. Let's keep it that way!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, I think that the Mariners are looking to start some fireworks of their own (out of frustration)! Regarding Crisp, I'd probably go with sharing time with Ellsbury (but keeping it inside) as the reason. And if blocking second base/the bag with your leg like that is not illegal, players have to accept that. I would be a little less hard on Manny, because we have no idea what Youk said to him - It could have been something really foul-mouthed/prickish, etc. Sure made for an exciting night (and they still took a backseat to the Celtics :)

Suldog said...

You can't fill a Boston sports night with much more than we got Thursday. Between the bizarre goings-on at Fenway and the C's game, it was a very memorable evening.

Rooster said...

You both siad it well. By the time I got to the Celt's game I was all fired up - and then look at that game!

Good point too Caroline about the Mariners. They could try to stir things up a little! See if they can knock the Sox off their game. Maybe an inside pitch or two?

Anonymous said...

R - Picture this tonight - The Sox still steamed up and sort of embarassed about the Rays & their own fighting; then the Mariners steamed up about being in last place and definitely embarassed. Talk about a collision course - Stay tuned!

Fenway West said...

How pissed must the Yankees be? They get a walk off win and nobody cares in the sports world.

It will be great if Bartolo can have another good outing. He is a big target for Richie Sexton to throw his helmet at if we have another brawl.

gingerly said...

Carter was a real highlight from last night. What a weird first-hit game for him. Fights all over the place. Still, he did fine.

I also commend Lester's cool throughout the game. He was downright admirable.

I know you're right and sensible in your rundown of who was right last night (nobody). Still, I have to focus on the instant the fight erupted. The pitcher, knowing Coco was on the edge and itching for a fight, threw at him intentionally. Coco's reaction in that instant was right on. What led up to it was nonsensical (how irritated Coco got about the slide incident, which really was nothing to get excited about), but what happens from the pitch forward -- that stands on its own. I land up on Coco's side no matter how I look at it.

Still, I grok your point and join you in hoping that the physical and mental wounds to the team heal soon. I suspect they will. We've got a resilient bunch of guys.

Rooster said...

C - I honestly doubt we'll see any hot heads tonight on either side, but you may be right. If so, FW has an interesting matchup in mind - the ever tall Sexton against the ever wide Colon!

FW - The Yankees won last night? Who knew?

G - Carter's first game ever in the big leagues will surely be memorable for him. He did look good, 2 hits, and a couple of nice catches in left field - and he's not an outfielder. We picked him up the the Wily Mo trade, and he's only 25 years old. Not bad.

And also, I don't begrudge Coco for goign after Shields. Shields was asking for it, the the Rays are completely to blame for starting things. It just would have been smarter to not charge the mound - not saying what he did was wrong. Coco definitely had a beef, but I do think he let it get to him too much.

Rays have been a cheap team in the past and show no signs of maturing.

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