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03/27/06 10:50 PM ET

Fracas erupts at Red Sox-Rays game

Punch thrown by Tavarez at Gathright incites incident

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Perhaps tempers have become short in these dog days of Spring Training. How else to explain the Red Sox being involved in two emotional incidents in as many days during what is usually a placid time of year?

Monday's incident occurred during the top of the eighth inning of a game between the Red Sox and Devil Rays, two teams that have had plenty of history with altercations, warnings and the like the last several years.

This one started with Red Sox reliever Julian Tavarez covering home plate to catch a throw, because catcher Ken Huckaby had to run up the first-base line to complete a rundown.

As Tavarez braced for the throw home from second baseman Zach Borowiak, speedy Joey Gathright churned to the plate. Tavarez's left leg got caught on Gathright's right forearm as he tagged him out.

Gathright, angered by this, pushed Tavarez's leg and hollered something at him. As Gathright got up off the ground, Tavarez promptly gave him a right hook to the face, and then another punch to the top of the head.

"I slid in and then he was standing on my arm -- I can show you marks," said Gathright, who did have some scratches on his arm. "I was trying to get up. I couldn't get up, because he was putting more pressure on it. I was like, 'Get off my arm,' but he wouldn't move, so I tried to get up and push his knee back, and I was getting up. He swung at me, and that's when it all started.

"I was shocked. It was kind of funny, but it happens. I guess he was upset because he was getting hit a little bit, but whatever the reason was, it wasn't called for."

Tavarez, who gave up a hit, three unearned runs and committed a throwing error over two-thirds of an inning, said he was defending himself.

"You have to defend yourself, man," said Tavarez. "I don't have a twin brother out there. He was like, 'Hey man,' I tried to get out [of the way] and I wasn't going to let him throw a punch at me right away. You ever hear that whoever gets the first punch gets the win? That's what happened. That's how it goes."

This came just a day after Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett screamed at Phillies slugger Ryan Howard because he thought the big first baseman was showboating after hitting what wound up being a routine out on the warning track. A half inning later, Howard wound up dropping his glove at first base and inviting Beckett out to the field to settle it there. That fire was put out before it could start.

Monday, there were more fireworks in what wound up a 12-11 win for the Red Sox.

"Yeah, you don't expect that," said Huckaby. "It just shows you that these games aren't giveaway games. There's a lot of emotion when guys are playing the game."

But Monday's incident got far more heated.

Gathright said that the right hook wound up being more a glancing blow than a roundhouse right.

"Yeah, it just kind of glazed," Gathright said. "He hits like a woman."

Devil Rays infielder Greg Norton didn't exactly play peacemaker, as he came charging in and piledrived Tavarez to the ground.

"It's over, I hope nothing happens," said Tavarez.

What Tavarez meant by nothing happening regarded discipline from the offices of Major League Baseball.

"When they make decisions, they make decisions," said Tavarez. "Either you get suspended for 10 days or whatever they want you to do, and you appeal it and they reduce the suspension -- that's just how it is."

Tavarez knows. For he has had history with disciplinary action before, not to mention letting his emotions get the best of him. In Game 4 of the 2004 National League Championship Series, Tavarez, then with the Cardinals, became incensed with himself and broke his left hand punching a dugout phone. In that same series, Tavarez was fined $10,000 for throwing a pitch over the head of Jeff Bagwell.

"It's the kind of person that I am," said Tavarez. "I'm not a fighting guy. I get along with my teammates and everybody. When you're on the field, things happen. I'm a very emotional guy. They can't even see what kind of person you are. Look how calm I am. I'm a very calm person [off the field]. But when we're on the field, little things go on. ... I don't know how to explain it to you, but I'm not that kind of person. All my trouble I've had in the Major Leagues has been on the field, but in the clubhouse, I'm cool with everybody."

Gathright and his teammates were anything but cool with Tavarez during this incident. Carl Crawford, the on deck batter, was the first one to come to Gathright's defense, and they were both shouting at Tavarez.

"I just saw Gath slide, try to get in at home plate and then laying on his back," said Crawford. "The next thing you know I just saw this guy taking a blow at him. I was going to try to help Gath get up. The next thing you know the guy took a swing at him. Don't ask me why. [He] could have at least let him get up."

Said Tavarez: "They were yelling at me, 'Let's meet one on one in the parking lot. I don't want to have a fight, man. What happened happened and it's over and I don't want to fight nobody."

The Red Sox ushered Tavarez off the field and into the clubhouse rather quickly as they didn't want anyone to get hurt. Both Gathright and Tavarez were ejected.

"I was just trying to stay between [Crawford], Julian and our dugout. ... I was just trying to stay in the middle," said Huckaby. "You don't expect that. Ninety-nine percent of stuff like that is just pushing and shoving to start with. Nobody wants to fight. When you see a swing get thrown, it kind of gets you into gear a little bit. Moreso than if it's just pushing and shoving. Most of it is just guys puffing their chests; this was guys doing a little bit more."

There have been seven on-field incidents between the American League East rivals, starting on Aug. 29, 2000. But because so many faces have changed on both teams over that time period -- including players and managers -- a lot of it seems to be circumstantial, rather than any specific bad blood.

"It happened in about a split second," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I certainly don't think [history was involved]. I didn't feel any ill will going into the game. It happened quick and it's over with."

Neither side seemed to think this altercation would linger into their 19 regular season meetings.

"I hope not," Crawford said. "We just want to go out and play baseball. We don't want to have to worry about this kind of stuff when we're going out to play. So, hopefully, that was the end of it on the field right there."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Maureen Mullen contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.