Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-10-12 23:02
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

The Yankees pulled out a huge win yesterday in Boston, but Game Three of the ALCS is likely to be remembered for the eruption of machismo and mishegoss more than the bofo pitching duel between two of the greatest pitchers of all time. After the Sox jumped on the Rocket in the first inning (Manny Ramirez had a two run single), Pedro Martinez was not able to hold the lead. He allowed an RBI single to Karim Garcia and then a solo homer to Derek Jeter. In the fourth inning, the Yankees added another run, via a grounds rule double by Hideki Matsui, which put runners on second and third with nobody out.

Garcia came to bat and Martinez buzzed one behind the left-handed hitter, nicking him on the left shoulder blade. With that, Martinez lit the fuse for what would unravel to be an unsavory afternoon. Did Pedro hit Garcia on purpose? There is no doubt in my mind. With nobody out, an open base, and a right-handed hitter on deck, it made sense. Martinez has impeccable control; even if he did lose control of a pitch, it is difficult to believe that he would go behind the hitter’s head.

The jawing began. Both benches were warned which brought Joe Torre out to riff, because that supposedly took the inside pitch away from his man, Clemens. Alfonso Soriano then hit into a double play, which scored another run. Garcia took out second baseman Todd Walker with a late slide, and then had some words for Walker and well as Martinez as he trotted off the field.

Pedro screamed back and then Jorge Posada, the Yankees catcher, got into it with Martinez as well. Don Zimmer was hollering too. This was when Pedro started pointing at his head, yelling at the Yankees bench. Did he mean to say, “I’m going to hit you in the head next time,” or “Use your head?” No matter, clearly Martinez was not using his head.

Manny Ramirez led off the bottom of the fourth, and with two strikes, Roger Clemens threw a pitch high in the zone, but over the plate. (ESPN later showed a pitch-by-pitch replay of the at-bat and Harold Reynolds noticed that Manny was bailing out on each pitch, waiting to get buzzed.) Ramirez lost his composure and started walking toward the mound, screaming at Clemens. The home plate umpire attempted to restrain Ramirez, who shoved him off. The benches cleared with much of the usual talking, and then Don Zimmer took it upon himself to charge Pedro Martinez.

As the 72-year old bench coach approached Martinez, he raised his left arm, as if he were going to throw a punch. It never got that far. Martinez, bracing himself, caught Zimmer by the head, with two hands, as if a basketball had been passed to him. He then tossed Zimmer to the ground, like he was making a behind the back bounce pass, and Zimmer fell flat on his face.

It was an absurd moment that would have been amusing if it weren’t so scary. My girlfriend Emily was horrified, and she could barely calm down for the rest of the game (she happens to adore Zim). Truthfully, I could barely believe what was happening.

As far as assigning blame, Zimmer was nuts to charge Martinez, but then again, Zimmer is nuts. I don't mean to take him off the hook, we all know he's a crazy old man. Martinez acted in self-defense, but could he have found a more tactful way to avoid Popeye’s bum rush? That’s debatable, but I think so. As Tom Boswell noted, Zimmer charged Pedro at exactly 1 mph. No matter, it was a no-win situation for Martinez. Self-defense or not, Martinez looked like a fool, which was fitting seeing how he started the melee in the first place.

Will Carroll was more pointed in his reaction:

I'm not sure that Pedro Martinez's throwdown on Don Zimmer is the worst thing I've ever seen in baseball, but it's top ten. Maybe Pedro shouldn't have been run, but he should be fined and significantly more than Robert Fick was for his sickening play in the NLDS. They had to stop beer sales in Fenway, so I'd like to see Pedro fined the equivalent of whatever the Red Sox lost in the deal. Then MLB should fine Pedro at least 50k. Even the MLBPA won't argue this one.

Better, I'd like to see the Sox "cowboy up" and throw a blanket party. Being the best pitcher in the game shouldn't give you a free pass on being an asshole.

Order was restored, Ramirez waved at the next pitch thrown by Clemens, and there wasn’t another incident until the ninth inning when a member of the Red Sox grounds crew got into a fight in the Yankees bullpen with reliever Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia (there’s that man again). Garcia had to leave the game with a bloodied hand, and after the game accusations were flying back and forth as to who exactly started the fight.

Oh yeah, the Yankees held on for the win as the Home Nine lost their poise.

There were several ironies that jumped out at me regarding the festivities:

1. After Martinez hit Garcia, he didn’t allow a base runner for the rest of the afternoon. He found his control all right, as well as his fastball--—Martinez had relied on his curveball in the early going.

2. When Martinez spiked Zimmer’s bald head into the turf, he did what many a Red Sox fan has wanted to do to Popeye for the last 25 years. Only when it finally happened, I doubt Sox fans could have felt much satisfaction.

3. And finally, it was Roger Clemens, not Martinez who kept his cool in the biggest game of the year. Martinez calmed down only after he instigated all the trouble to begin with.

In all, it was an ugly day for baseball, a memorable day for the rivalry, and a great victory for the Yankees. Nobody was tossed from the game, although Zimmer, Ramirez and Martinez all could have been kicked out (if this were a regular season game, they undoubtedly would have been run from the game and hit with suspensions). It’s hard to know what happened in the bullpen, but Jeff Nelson is no saint, that’s for sure. But for an employee of Fenway Park to get himself in that kind of situation doesn’t exactly speak highly of the Boston organization either.

With emotions running high, it will be interesting to see how the Yanks and Sox respond tonight. My gut tells me that in spite of having a mediocre starting pitcher in John Burkett, the Sox bats will come alive and even the Serious against David Wells, who doesn’t have a great history against Boston. I still feel that this is the pivotal game for New York, because if they win tonight, they are in good shape to move on.

One thing that I’m curious about is how the rest of the country feels about the Serious now. My guess is that the Red Sox have now made it hard to pull for them. Tom Boswell noted in The Washington Post:

If "Reverse the Curse" were on a nationwide recall ballot after Saturday's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, then the Red Sox would probably lose millions of "swing votes" after a disgraceful performance that left the Boston organization with a self-inflicted black eye in addition to a 4-3 loss.

...The Red Sox weren't cursed by any "Bambino" Saturday, but rather by their own tempers and stupidity.

...This was probably a game [Boston] had to win if they were to outlast the Yankees in this series. Martinez means far more to them, statistically and symbolically, than any Yankee pitcher means to New York. On Saturday, Martinez was greatly diminished in many eyes. In a sense, Don Zimmer, by charging Martinez, demythologized the Red Sox' ace. If a 72-year-old man isn't scared of him, who should be?

Assuming the scratch on Zimmer's nose doesn't require extensive hospitalization, is a septuagenarian coach eligible for the ALCS most valuable player award? If the Yankees go on to win, he might get my vote.

Peter Gammons adds his take as well:

Yankee players vilified Martinez. "Guys in their bullpen were telling our guys that they can't stand it that when he starts getting beat. He throws at guys and everyone else gets hurt," said one Yankees star. And there wasn't, as the Boston Herald's Tony Massarotti pointed out, much support for Pedro in his own clubhouse, save that he "kept us in the game."

...Martinez now faces the scourge of public scrutiny, and his legacy, not to mention his status in the town he has, as Clemens once did, owned.

The Yankees may be The Evil Empire, but two of the Sox greatest players—Martinez and Ramirez—came across as punks yesterday. I don't know how the majority of Sox fans feel, but Ed Cossette is taking this one to heart:

I went to bed last night feeling embarrassed to be a Red Sox fan. I awoke this morning and felt no different.

...As a Red Sox fan, I'm used to having my heart broken by loss. However, in all my years of watching Red Sox baseball, nothing prepared me for the deep hurt inflicted yesterday. While other games may have wounded my heart, this one blackened my soul.

Ed Kubosiak echoed Cossette's sentiment:

I'm embarrassed to be a Red Sox fan this morning. Hell, make that embarrassed to be a baseball fan.

I found it nearly impossible to cheer for the Sox yesterday after Pedro's head-hunting pitch that hit Karim Garcia in the back, and his finger pointing, both at the Yankee dugout and at his own head, seeming to indicate he would throw at somebody else's noggin if he had to.

Again, the Sox have been resourceful all year. They are not out of this yet. But they aren't the appealing underdogs they were a few weeks ago, not even in the eyes of their own fans.

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