A little history can go a long way. All it takes is an ill-timed HBP and a few words in response from either side, and a poorly placed mistake thereafter can blow up into a full-scale bench clearer.
Add to that ingredient list the Giants and Dodgers fighting for the top spot in the NL West, and one’s margin for error gets that much thinner.
First, the history. On May 9, Yasiel Puig homered off Madison Bumgarner and flipped his bat. He flipped his bat because flipping his bat is what Yasiel Puig does. It had as much to do with Bumgarner as it did with Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, Jordan Lyles and Jacob Turner, the four guys Puig homered against prior to taking Bumgarner deep.
It didn’t make a bit of different to the 6-foot-5 North Carolinian, who started hollering at Puig and went so far as to approach him between third base and home plate. From that moment on, coverage of the rivalry seemed obliged to reference the dustup at every available opportunity.
So when Bumgarner hit Puig in the foot with a cutter on Tuesday, it was hardly in a vacuum. The pitch couldn’t have looked less intentional, coming as it did with deep, downward bite on a 1-2 count in the game’s first inning. Considering the pair’s history, Puig and Bumgarner could both have reacted with a bit more suave, which would have immediately relegated the incident to the noted-for-later category. Instead, Puig looked toward the mound in disbelief. Bumgarner said, “What are you looking at?” Puig stepped toward the pitcher. Bumgarner threw down his glove to welcome his opponent. And that was it. Benches cleared, though no punches were thrown and nobody was ejected.
Bumgarner didn’t even want to dignify talk of intent after the game. “He’ll know if it’s on purpose,” he afterward in an MLB.com report. “I’ll make sure of that.”
Matt Kemp avenged his teammate one out later, driving Puig in with a homer to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead (following Justin Turner’s solo shot leading off the inning). Bumgarner responded in kind with a homer of his own in the third, for which he pumped his arm after rounding first base.
This wasn’t Marichal-Roseboro. It wasn’t even Lilly-Posey. But the ongoing acrimony between Bumgarner and Puig is not going away, nor likely is Puig’s showboating that started it all (in the pitcher’s mind, anyway). If benches could clear over something as clear-cut as this, you can bet that it’ll happen again.
The teams meet 18 times next year.