BOSTON -- What started as a blowout turned into a brawl on Friday night at Fenway Park.
After jumping out 8-0 in the first inning, the Red Sox had a commanding 10-3 lead over the Orioles in the bottom of the eighth. With one out and David Ortiz at the plate, the game had fended off rain showers and looked to be nearing its end.
That is, until Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg threw inside to Ortiz.
And then he did it again.
Ortiz took exception to the pitches and began to walk toward the mound, but retreated to the plate where he popped out to centerfield. Gregg shouted to Ortiz as he ran toward first base and was promptly ejected by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook. Once again, Ortiz headed toward the mound -- and this time, no one retreated.
“3-0 [count], they’re up seven, I think there’s some ethics to this game that you’ve got to . . . guidelines that you’ve got to stay within. Run,” Gregg said following the Red Sox 10-3 victory. “You hit a fly ball, a lazy fly ball, you’ve got to run the bases. Apparently he didn’t like me telling him that stuff and he came out there. That’s part of the game. He has the right to come out there. I’m going to defend myself if he comes out.”
As Gregg and Ortiz threw punches (none connected), benches and bullpens cleared. The two scuffling players were quickly enveloped in a mass of Red Sox and Orioles furiously trying to defend their teammates.
“I think blood’s flowing, we’re obviously scoring some runs. It’s hard to explain unless you’re out there,” said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was ejected for his role in the scrum. “We’ve got to protect each other, protect our teammates. I don’t think there’s any reason for it. I didn’t see anything that was reason to throw it at him.”
Once tempers cooled and the players were separated, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia and Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson were also ejected. Saltalamacchia, who came out of the Red Sox bullpen, said he has “no clue still” as to why he was thrown out. While Ortiz did not address the media after the game, his teammates spoke out in his defense.
Starting pitcher Josh Beckett believes Gregg should have been thrown out for leaving the mound before Ortiz even popped out.
“I don’t know why they were trying to do that, but it was pretty obvious to me it wasn’t just, ‘I’ll try to pitch you in,’ " he said, adding, "[Gregg] obviously said something to David. David's not the kind of guy that just, you know, something had to set him off.”
Echoed Dustin Pedroia, “He’s nice to everybody. Obviously he was upset, and that’s why that happened.”
After the game, both sides spoke of protecting their own. Marco Scutaro, at 5-foot-10, jumped on the 6-foot-6 Gregg’s back to try to restrain him from going after Ortiz. Josh Reddick, who was on third base at the time, said sticking up for your teammates is “a huge thing here in the clubhouse.”
And the sentiment was no different for the Orioles.
“This is a team sport,“ said Gregg. “I take offense to every run scored off every one of our pitchers. I take offense to every one of our hitters that’s hit every time I’m out there. We’re a family – we spend more time together with these 25 guys than I do with my own family. I take it personal. You get tired of getting your butt kicked every night when you come in here and I’m going to stick up for what’s ours and try to get the plate back.”
The Red Sox (53-35) took a full-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East with the win and are fighting to maintain control of the top spot. Even though the Orioles, on the other hand, fell to 36-50, they refuse to stop battling.
“I think you show them that we’re not backing down,” said Gregg. “We’re not scared of them – them and their $180 million payroll. We don’t care. We’re here to play the game. We have just as much right to play the game here and we’re going to do everything we can to win.”
With two game left in the series, the two teams are on opposite ends of the standings, but neither team is planning on backing down.
“I hope not, because we’re a good hitting team,” said Beckett. “They can’t just be hitting our [expletive] guys because we score a lot of runs. That’s how the game’s played. And it may have been something totally different. Maybe they saw something they didn’t like or whatever, but if it’s just because we scored eight runs in the first inning, they’re going to start throwing at our [expletive] guys?