Images from the fight are vivid: Shane Victorino getting plunked in in the lower back in the top of the sixth, then taking steps toward the mound; catcher Eli Whiteside tackling a charging Placido Polanco around the legs; Victorino charging into the scrum and belting Giants hitting coach Hensley Muellens. (Watch it here.)
But what led up to it?
Well, the pitch from Ramon Ramirez that hit Victorino, for one. It certainly seemed intentional. But why?
Popular sentiment holds that Ramirez was spurred by Jimmy Rollins‘ steal of second base moments earlier, with his team holding an 8-2 advantage. In many cases, a six-run lead in the sixth inning is firmly within the Code’s gray area when it comes to propriety for such a play. But for these Giants, who are last in the National League in runs scored and who had scored more than twice in only four of their previous 14 games, a six-run deficit may as well be 12.
So why wait until after Polanco singled to drill a guy? Simple frustration, perhaps; Rollins advanced to third on the play, and second base was open with two outs.
In the clubhouse prior to today’s game, I asked a number of Giants players about whether Rollins’ steal garnered notice in the San Francisco dugout. While nobody was interested in fanning these particular flames, let alone implicating Ramirez as having intentionally drilled Victorino, the only guy to deny taking note of Rollins’ steal was Jeremy Affeldt, and that was because he was in the bullpen, warming up, when it happened.
“We noticed,” one player told me, referring to Rollins. “I don’t want to speak for everybody, but a lot of us noticed.”
Another player went so far as to say that Rollins’ steal was simply the final factor in a string of things “that you just don’t do in somebody else’s ballpark.” He declined to elaborate, but little happened prior to the steal to draw the notice of the broadcast crew or people in the press box. One guess is that the Phillies were doing their share of chirping, which was enough—combined with San Francisco’s frustration over its recent losing streak, and Ramirez’s frustration over giving up four hits, a walk, a wild pitch and three runs over two-thirds of an inning—to push the pitcher over the edge.
The fact that it was Jonathan Sanchez’s first start against Philadelphia since last year’s dustup with Chase Utley in the NLCS could also have raised the tension.
When it came to the fight itself, none of it would have happened had Victorino not started toward the mound. As it was, he quickly reconsidered his action, slowing up after an aggressive first step, then stopping altogether to wipe his mouth with his shirt. This was clearly not a man with violence on his mind.
(“He hit Vic, then he came after Vic. Vic almost has to go unless he wants his teammates to call him chicken,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in an AP report. “I think (Ramirez) was getting hit and he got mad and he was going to plunk somebody. He was going to send a message.”)
Polanco, however, was racing toward the mound until being waylaid by Whiteside. That was the moment at which things got testy. (That Victorino charged into the scrum in a second wave of anger will not play in his favor in the league office, nor will the fact that he pushed aside umpire Mike Muchlinski in his quest to do so.)
One more item of interest from the fight: Giants outfielder Pat Burrell, while abiding by the unwritten rule mandating that all players take the field during a fight, broke an actual rule when he did so. (Players not on the active roster are barred even from the dugout during games.)
Today’s contest was quiet (especially from the standpoint of San Francisco’s offense), and the bad blood appears to have subsided. All it takes, however, is one angry reliever to reignite things as if they had never abated, and to possibly set the Hawaiian flyin’ again.