Flaring tempers reignite rivalry
Bad blood simmers between Yanks-Sox in series opener
BOSTON -- Sure, they were all tired of the acrimony "manufactured" between them, a contrivance of hyper-media. Surely the large gap between them would chill everyone out, and serve up a mellow New England spring eve.Right. You can take the Yankees and the Red Sox out of a pennant fight. But you can't take the fight out of the Yankees and the Red Sox. That's all. It's a law of baseball nature. So, Friday night at Fenway Park, we saw Joe Torre snap and get tossed. We saw five players get hit, by five different pitchers. We also saw the Yankees get another little leg up out of the grave, with a 9-5 victory that stirred their far-fetched hopes of making a pennant fight out of this yet. At a deficit of 12 1/2 games, no one is yet scheduled for a weigh-in. So that wasn't pennant fever in the postgame clubhouses, just plain old hot blood. Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis was still the maddest, as he had been on the diamond. He was entitled, because he stopped the hardest pitch and the last one, from Scott Proctor in the bottom of the ninth. Until then, it appeared the first four plunkings would be dismissed as incidental backdrops to a New York romp. But when Proctor's 2-2 fastball was headed for Youkilis' chin before being diverted by his left shoulder, all the previous activity stormed to the forefront. While Youkilis vented at Proctor in catcher Jorge Posada's embrace, the two of them surrounded by both emptying benches, plate umpire Brian O'Nara quickly ejected the pitcher. During two ensuing pitching changes, Posada twice visited with his new best friend -- at first, after Youkilis had finally taken the base, and later at third. "We weren't trying to hit him," Posada said. "He had a pretty good swing at a pitch away, so [Proctor] came in and the pitch got a little away from him. I just talked to [Youkilis], it's between us." Also tight-lipped was Youkilis, for whom the diamond apparently is an allegorical extension of Las Vegas. "What's on the field, stays on the field," said Youkilis, who earlier in the game had extended his hitting streak to 23 games. "It's over. It's done with. Tomorrow is another day." Speaking of which ... Mike Mussina, the Yankees' starter in Saturday's FOX national telecast, intently watched the flaring tempers. As did Sunday pitching foes Andy Pettitte and Josh Beckett. "I certainly hope not," Torre, whose own ejection by third-base umpire Jerry Crawford came in a delayed argument over Bobby Abreu being called out attempting to steal, said when asked about potential carry-overs. "With these two clubs, you never know what can happen. But I certainly hope not."
Until the epilogue flashed across the late-night sky, this had been a relative snoozefest enlivened only by the creative Boston fans' welcome of Alex Rodriguez.Whenever a Yankees infielder settled under a pop up, you can be sure that 36,785 were calling for the ball from the stands. Then, slowly, the dramatic muses began to peek their heads through the blades of grass. The force of the hit batsmen gradually escalated, as though orchestrated toward the Youkilis crescendo. First, Mike Lowell was hit by Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang's 0-1 pitch in the third. Next, Tim Wakefield bounced a 1-1 pitch off Josh Phelps.
Later in the fourth, Rodriguez was brushed by Kyle Snyder's 1-2 pitch in the fourth.And in the top of the ninth, Javier Lopez planted an 0-2 pitch in the back of Robinson Cano -- who had begun the Yankees' assault long before with a two-run homer in the second. In the postgame clubhouse, Cano closely examined footage of Lopez's pitch and walked away becalmed. "I was checking where the catcher set up," Cano said. "He signaled for the pitch to be out, so it just got away. Not on purpose." So the Yankees were not thinking retaliation -- a message Posada said he explicitly delivered to Proctor as he entered the game to start the ninth. Posada visited the mound and told Proctor, "Nobody needs to get hit. Pitch your game. Go about your business." "So I know there was no intention behind any of these pitches," Posada told reporters. "The ump ... he just looks at what's going on, and goes on that." Proctor argued his ejection. Which, of course, is a nonreversible verdict. "I can understand why Youkilis was mad at me," Proctor said. "Any time you get a ball thrown at your head ... "But if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it on the first pitch. I'm not going to do it 2-2 and waste four pitches. That's stupid." "It's gonna happen every once in a while," said Youkilis, for whom that rate has accelerated to twice in a while. He was dinged nine times in 680 plate appearances in 2006, but already six times in about one-third of that this season. "I get hit all time," he said, "but you're never happy if the ball's coming at your head." Either amused or just piqued by those questioning his reaction, Youkilis wondered, "Have you guys ever had a ball thrown at your head?" So, despite the wide separation between the teams, little appeared to have changed. Fenway Park was charming as ever, and still sold out. The Citgo sign glowed as bright as ever. An early-evening cloudburst after a stiflingly-hot afternoon felt as good as ever. And the Yankees and the Red Sox again found a way to escalate their relationship above the field, and outside the lines. They can't always keep the promise of racing down to the wire year after year. But they never fail to keep your attention.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.