Galarraga, Avila scuffle in Tigers dugout
'Misunderstanding' between pitcher, catcher gets heated
CHICAGO -- Armando Galarraga catapulted to fame with his graciousness and sportsmanship after a blown call spoiled his bid at a perfect game, but he's just as competitive as anybody else. On Sunday, as he tried once again to recapture some of the success of that near-perfection, his competitiveness boiled over, and it sent him at both of his catchers in the middle of the Tigers dugout.
"Well, when you're a pitcher and a catcher, every now and then you get your signals crossed," joked manager Jim Leyland, who didn't take issue with the altercation.
Nor publicly did the Tigers players, who took it more as a mix-up rather than a sign of a larger dust-up, a sign of a struggling team rather than a sign of team chemistry.
"It was just a misunderstanding. That's it," Galarraga said. "You always try to make your [game] plan, but sometimes the plan's not the right way. It's a misunderstanding."
It was a bizarre altercation for a pitching battery that had just finished off a scoreless first inning. Galarraga had just finished off the White Sox after giving up a two-out single to Paul Konerko, but something during the inning set him off. Once Carlos Quentin popped out to third for the third out, he jogged back into the dugout and went directly towards Alex Avila, who still had his catching gear on after walking in moments earlier.
Galarraga came in pointing and yelling at Avila, who initially looked startled before he started to return fire.
"It was a big deal at the moment, but it kind of got out of hand for a second," Avila said. "It was just a little blown out of proportion. It was just on what we wanted to do to some guys and going through the game plan. It was just a heated conversation.
"It was a little surprising, probably a little out of character for both of us. But then, we were trying to get things right. It just got more out of hand than what either of us would've wanted."
It got there quickly enough that teammates stepped in to make sure it didn't become something worse. One of those teammates was veteran catcher Gerald Laird, who has had disagreements with pitchers over calls before.
He stepped in initially to try to maintain peace, but he quickly found himself defending Avila.
"It was getting a little heated, and I just wanted to get in there," Laird said. "I got both my teammates in there. Alex is a young guy at the position that I play. I know what he's going through back there, and it's tough when you come in and [someone] like that gets in your face. He was doing a good job of just taking it.
"I just thought enough was going on, and I tried to get in between to kind of calm things down. I think Galarraga kind of took it the wrong way, and maybe I said something I shouldn't have said. But the kid's young. He's only got a year in the big leagues. He's still learning. For [Galarraga] to come in and try to embarrass him in front of his teammates like that, I just didn't think that was the right time to do it."
The exchange that was going on between Galarraga and Avila quickly turned to Galarraga against Laird, and teammates then had to scramble to separate them. Replays showed hitting coach Lloyd McClendon holding back Galarraga as he tried to take a swing at Laird, then Johnny Damon pushing him back.
The fact that it was in the open and in front of the cameras was the heart of the problem. Pitchers and catchers have issues, but they usually hash it out somewhere out of view. Eventually, infielder Ramon Santiago got Galarraga seated and tried to calm him down as he kept looking back in Laird's direction.
Avila said pitch selection was part of it, but not everything.
"It wasn't just about the pitches," Avila said.
In the larger context of Galarraga's season, though, the dispute might be a sign of the frustration he has had. He's winless in his last seven starts and entered the day with a 1-4 record and 5.10 ERA in 11 starts since his would-be perfect game June 2. Leyland has said often over the last couple weeks that Galarraga has to trust his ability more and pitch more aggressively to hitters rather than nibbling on the corners.
Leyland, for one, had no issue with it.
"I like it," he said.
The Tigers have had incidents like that in recent years. Justin Verlander got into a shouting match with Laird in the dugout at Angel Stadium between innings of a start last year, but no bad blood followed. Before that, Ivan Rodriguez and Nate Robertson had a disagreement on the mound at that same ballpark in 2004 before it continued into the dugout.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.