The Yankees-Tigers Brawl of the Century on Thursday presented a grab-bag for the ages of unwritten rules, some justified, some not, some executed to precision, some decidedly less so. Among the things we saw:
- Hitting a guy in response to his success: In the fourth inning, Gary Sanchez blasted his fourth home run of the three-game series. In the fifth inning, Tigers starter Michael Fulmer drilled Sanchez with a 96-mph fastball. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that it was unintentional—Fulmer recently returned to action after recovering from ulnar neuritis that disrupted his touch, and was shaking his hand in discomfort after releasing the pitch, before the ball even connected. Sanchez did not appear inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, glaring toward the mound on his way to first base.
- Responding to a hit teammate: When Miguel Cabrera stepped in to face reliever Tommy Kahnle in the sixth, the right-hander had already struck out the inning’s first two hitters. Cabrera, however, is Detroit’s biggest threat, and thus the surest target for a payback pitch in response to Fulmer. Kahnle delivered, sending a fastball behind Cabrera’s back. The intent was obvious; plate ump Carlos Torres ejected Kahnle without a prior warning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was similarly tossed when he emerged to argue the decision.
- History matters: On July 31 at Yankee Stadium, Kahnle hit Mikie Mahtook in the helmet. Though the pitch seemed unintentional, Fulmer responded by plunking Jacoby Ellsbury. Benches were warned and tempers remained calm … for the moment.
- As goes the aggrieved party, so goes his team: Cabrera was not immediately agitated, but soon got into an animated conversation with Tigers catcher Austin Romine, which ended up in wild punches and both teams converging onto the field in brawling clusters. Cabrera and Romine were ejected.
- Fight honorably: Every player is expected to appear on the field during a baseball fight, filling one of three acceptable roles: active combatant, peacemaker or bystander. Two actions are patently disallowed: remaining in the dugout and cheap-shotting an opponent. New York catcher Gary Sanchez, leaping from scrum to scrum, began punching Tigers who were helplessly wedged beneath piles of players. Nothing will sully a player’s reputation around the league quicker than this, and Sanchez is certain to feel its impact in the future—both in terms of impending suspension and treatment by the opposition.
- Teammates protect each other: During the first fight, Detroit’s Victor Martinez actually cozied up to Sanchez. Normally this type of interaction between opponents would not be an issue, but this happened after Sanchez’s below-board tactics during the fight, about which multiple Tigers were aware. Castellanos attempted to explain this to Martinez in the Detroit dugout, with an assist from Justin Verlander. The pitcher said something Martinez didn’t like, then dismissively walked away. Martinez had to be restrained from going after him. After the game, comments were forthcoming from none of them.
- Teammates protect each other, Part II: The rule mandating that everybody join the party includes relievers, which meant that the bullpens of each team got in some decent cardio on the day.
- Keep retaliation below the shoulders: With the game tied 6-6 in the seventh, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances drilled James McCann in the helmet with a 98-mph fastball. The batter was not seriously hurt, but the Tigers were irate, and, even given the possibility that it was unintentional, benches again cleared. Betances was ejected, as was Yankees bench coach and acting manager Rob Thomson. Somehow, New York’s replacement pitcher, David Robertson, hit the very next batter, John Hicks, in the hand.
- Never cop to anything: In the top of the eighth, Detroit’s Alex Wilson drilled Todd Frazier in the thigh. While Fulmer had been quick to deny intent about his own hit batter (“I’m not the type of guy who’d hit a guy for hitting a home run. Especially down one run. I have more dignity than that,” he said) Wilson was different. He told reporters after the game that he didn’t believe either Betances or Robertson had drilled anybody intentionally, but that he nonetheless felt the need to respond. It was “pretty obvious what had to happen,” he said in a Detroit Free Press report, adding, “You’ve got to take care of your teammates sometimes. With me, if hitting a guy in the leg is what I have to do, then that’s what I did. Fortunately for me, I know where my pitches are going and I hit a guy in the leg today to take care of my teammates and protect them. It is what it is.” Suspensions are likely for many of the day’s participants, and certain for Wilson.
- A manager’s role is to keep his players in line and restore order as quickly as possible: After the game, Joe Girardi accused Tigers manager Brad Ausmus of yelling “fuck you” at one of the Tigers, adding, “Come on, Brad, what is that?”
This was some ugly stuff. Whether or not Fulmer drilled Sanchez for riding a hot streak, it sure appeared that way. Cabrera appeared to accept that as Detroit’s best player, he was the one chosen to pay the price. Had either he or Romine been better able to keep their cool (oh, to know what was said that started it all), the entire affair would likely have failed to escalate.
Stuck in the middle was Andrew Romine, Austin’s brother, a bench player for the Yankees, who did his best to separate combatants on the field. (Oh, to know what was said at the family dinner after the game.)
Suspensions are certainly forthcoming, no player more deserving than Betances, for throwing all-world heat anywhere near a hitter’s head, or Sanchez, for dishonorable fighting.
The teams won’t meet again until next season. We’ll see then just how long some memories are.