In other words, the superstars have done superstar things. Yes, the games have been long; these teams know no other way. But the talent is undeniable. You won’t find zany clubhouse characters like Johnny Damon or Kevin Millar, but the play on the field is still sublime — and feisty.
The benches actually cleared twice on Wednesday, in the third and seventh innings. Austin slid into second base in the third and spiked shortstop Brock Holt’s lower calf. Holt just stood there, telling Austin what he thought about it. Austin got a little closer, and suddenly 50 players had swarmed the field. Nothing much happened, though.
“I thought it was over,” Holt said. “We’re not trying to fight those guys over there. They’re big. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen, something did happen, and it escalated quickly.”
Since we’re using “Anchorman” terms, after Kelly drilled Austin in the seventh, the teams were throwing down in fisticuffs — a Cliff Johnson here, a Troy O’Leary there (or something like that). Kelly, naturally, insisted the pitch got away from him. Give the guy credit, at least, for self-deprecating supporting evidence.
“I walk a batter per inning,” Kelly said, “so it’s not like I have Greg Maddux command.”
Catcher Christian Vazquez said he expected the Yankees to retaliate, either on Thursday or when the teams meet again May 8 to 10 in the Bronx.
“They feel like us,” Vazquez said. “The clubhouse is our home. Let’s protect our home. There will be something soon. If not this series, maybe in New York.”
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, who has seen decades of this rivalry, defended Austin for charging Kelly after the obvious purpose pitch.
“In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to control your emotions,” Cashman said. “There’s two competitive teams going at it and stuff happens and sometimes stuff shouldn’t happen.”
Aaron Boone, the Yankees’ manager, mentioned the incident last April between the Red Sox and Manny Machado, the Baltimore Orioles star who injured Dustin Pedroia with a hard slide. That sparked an awkward follow-up in which Boston’s Matt Barnes threw behind Machado, only to have Pedroia tell Machado, from the dugout, that he had nothing to do with it.
The Red Sox went on to win the division, of course, but the ordeal underscored at least some level of dysfunction or absence of leadership. That does not seem to be an issue anymore. In the code of the clubhouse, Kelly protected his teammate, and Holt liked what it suggested.
“It shows how close-knit we are in here,” Holt said, “and the same goes for them, how close-knit they are.”
Had the Red Sox been playing another team, the incident might have played out the same way; a spike to the calf hurts just as much from a Mariner as it does from a Yankee. But when a Yankee does it at Fenway, there are layers of historical resonance.
“Bench-clearing brawls are bench-clearing brawls,” Holt said. “I think Red Sox-Yankees makes it bigger for people outside of the Red Sox and Yankees — fans and media and stuff like that, I think that’s a big part of it. But I don’t think it’s any different for us.”
The Red Sox and the Yankees do not really hate each other — do they? — but scenes like Wednesday’s validate the passion of the fans, in those cities and far beyond.
Purists love seeing the Kansas City Royals and the Houston Astros in the World Series. Those championship teams played with athleticism and verve, and they were endearing to those who paid attention. If you really love baseball, you wouldn’t mind seeing the Milwaukee Brewers knock off the Chicago Cubs, or the Arizona Diamondbacks upset the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But when the Yankees and the Red Sox are this good — and the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani captivates fans with his two-way magic in greater Los Angeles — the sport thrives on a bigger scale. So while baseball will surely impose discipline for Wednesday’s scuffle, it will do so with a wink.
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