A rivalry finds its fire:
After brawl, rugged AL East race awaits
A brawl has awakened Yankees vs. Red Sox, and a heated AL East race might await.
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Jeter starts to leave stamp on Marlins, Page 8
BOSTON – It’s on. And depending which side you’re on, it’s the Evil Empire vs. the Good Guys. But, who’s who?
Most preseason prognosticators predicted the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox would be slugging it out this season, fighting for supremacy in the division and perhaps in the league. With 19 games to be played this year, each team would have plenty of opportunities to show it was the more dominant force.
What they didn’t know, perhaps, is that the Red Sox and Yankees would take them so literally.
The rivalry, one of the most historic in sports, had been mostly dormant for more than a decade, resting on the back burner as the teams struggled to be relevant in the same season. It began to heat up last season, simmering as the Red Sox won the division. But the Yankees took the season series 11-8, outscoring Boston 82-59, and went further in the postseason.
The fight for supremacy boiled over last week at Fenway Park with a full-on brawl that made some of their pugilistic predecessors take note. The Yankees won the game, the second of the series, 10-7, but the Red Sox took the three-game series.
The new batch of bad blood began when the Red Sox embarrassed the Yankees last week 14-1 in their series opener. In Game 2, New York scored four runs in the first off Boston starter David Price, ending his outing, the shortest start of the former Cy Young Award winner’s career. Tempers heated up in the third inning, when New York’s Tyler Austin slid into second base, spiking shortstop Bock Holt in the right calf. Holt took exception and let Austin know it.
“I probably said something I probably shouldn’t have to start it off,” Holt said. “But I just wanted (Austin) to know it was a bad slide, and I think he knows that now.”
The benches and bullpens emptied, but players mostly just stood around. There were a few pushes, but no punches were thrown. Heath Hembree struck out Austin in the fifth. But in the seventh, Joe Kelly’s second pitch, a 97.8 mph fastball, came in tight to Austin. Two pitches later, Kelly hit Austin with a 97.7 mph fastball.
“No one likes getting hit with a 98 mph fastball,” New York’s Aaron Judge said. “So everybody was pretty upset about it.”
Austin slammed his bat on the plate and took a few steps toward Kelly, who appeared to say, “Let’s go” with a “Come at me, Bro” stance. Austin broke into a full sprint. The benches again emptied.
“The only thing I would had done dif- ferent than Joe Kelly tonight, is I would’ve hit Tyler Austin at his previous at bat,” Hall of Famer pitcher and Red Sox great Pedro Martinez tweeted. “Other than that, Kelly executed perfectly.”
Keith Foulke, the closer on Boston’s 2004 World Series championship team, also tweeted a thumb’s-up sign at Kelly.
In the ensuing melee, punches were thrown — Boston third-base coach Carlos Febles got one in the face. Kelly emerged with bloody marks on his neck. And feelings were shared — Boston manager Alex Cora and Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin got into a heated, ani- mated shouting match after the brawl had subsided.
“Typical Red Sox-Yankee game, about four hours long and a couple of benchclearing brawls,” Holt said. “So we’re right on track here.”
“I was ready to defend myself,” said Kelly, who predictably said the pitch got away from him. “If someone comes on my property, in my backyard, then I have two dogs. … If I feel like I’m getting attacked, then I’m going to defend myself.”
“I play the game hard,” Austin said. “I thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with that slide and I had no
thought that they were going to throw at me.
“I’m just trying to defend myself, that’s all it is. I thought that (pitch) was intentional and I didn’t want anybody to push myself around or anything like that and that’s why I went out there.”
“Nothing remotely dirty about it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Austin’s slide.
Intro to Yankees-Red Sox
Boone and Cora might be rookie managers, but they are not new to the teams’ rivalry. Cora played for the Red Sox from 2005 to 2008, winning a World Series in 2007 but remembering, with much angst, a five-game weekend sweep the Yankees inflicted at Fenway in August 2006. Boone played just a few months for the Yankees but in that short time managed to inflict one of the most painful hits on the Red Sox in team history — a leadoff, walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
Now they’ve gotten their first looks at the rivalry from the manager’s seat — and in managing their first brawls.
“You don’t want people to get hurt,” Cora said. “It’s the same role — don’t throw a punch and grab somebody.”
Sometimes, though, these kinds of incidents can galvanize a team.
“It shows how close-knit we are in here,” Holt said. “And the same goes for them, how closeknit they are.”
After the fisticuffs, both managers said they believed there would be no carryover. Minus Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton getting hit by pitches in the series finale, they were right. But with 16 more games remaining, including their next three May 8-10 at Yankee Stadium, will peace reign or will they be ready to rumble?
Both sides say they are certain the fisticuffs are over and it will be about baseball going forward. How can they be sure? “Professionalism,” Boone said. “At some point, things have to end, you got to put things behind. I mean, you always obviously have to try and protect your own, but you got to be a pro, too. At the end of the day the biggest thing is we’re trying to win ballgames. Our guys know that. I think that’s the long-term focus all the time. So you’ve got to be able to separate, especially when emotions get hot sometimes.”
“We’re playing good baseball and we want to continue to do that,” Boston’s Kelly said.
“Whatever happened, happened,” Boston ace Chris Sale said. “You adjust and move on.”
But at least one player thought there could be a rematch.
“You know that’s coming,” catcher Christian Vazquez said. “They feel like us. That clubhouse is our second home. We want to protect our home, so there will be something soon. If not this series, maybe in New York.”
Told of Vazquez’s comments, Cora said he would have a chat with his catcher.
“Christian said that? I got to talk to him,” Cora said. “He didn’t mention that to me. I’ll talk to him.”
After the brawl, Kelly received a six-game suspension and Austin got five games. Both have appealed. Cora, Nevin and four players who were on the disabled list but left the dugout — New York’s CC Sabathia and Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Marco Hernandez — were fined.
“I think it’s two passionate clubs and those kinds of things happen over the course of a season sometimes, fortunately or unfortunately,” Boone said. “I don’t read too much into it other than two teams that are playing for a lot and competing for a lot and sometimes, over the course of a long season when you get competitive people out there, those things can happen.”
The Yankees and Red Sox don’t play at Fenway Park again until Aug. 2 but they close out the regular season in September with a three-game series in Boston.
Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin starts a scrum with Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly, left, during the opening series between the teams at Fenway Park.