Benches clear in Yankees-Rays game

March 12, 2008 6:15:26 PM PDT
So much for the notion that the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays could settle a gripe without fighting. Meeting only days after New York manager Joe Girardi complained about Tampa Bay's aggressive play in spring training after one of his players was injured in a home-plate collision, the Yankees brought some attitude of their own into a testy rematch Wednesday.

Shelley Duncan's hard slide into second base with his spikes raised sparked a bench-clearing scrum that resulted in two players and two coaches being ejected during the second inning of Tampa Bay's 7-6 victory.

Duncan, who had hinted at the prospect of retaliating for the Rays' Elliot Johnson barreling over New York catcher Francisco Cervelli last Saturday, spiked second baseman Akinori Iwamura in the right thigh and was immediately tossed.

Tampa Bay's Jonny Gomes was ejected, too, after racing in from right field and ramming into Duncan as other players poured onto the field.

Girardi called the home-plate collision in the first game between the AL East rivals unnecessary. This time it was Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's turn to denounce rough play not normally associated with exhibition games.

"In Tampa, that play you saw at home plate was a good, hard baseball play. What you saw today was the definition of a dirty play," Maddon said. "There's no room for that in our game. It's contemptable. It's wrong. It's borderline criminal, and I could not believe they did that."

Among New York players, Duncan was the most vocal in his criticism of the collision that broke Cervelli's right wrist, sidelining the Yankees prospect for eight to 10 weeks and triggering a debate over what's fair play in spring training.

The Yankees first baseman insisted he was not trying to injure Iwamura.

"I'm pretty sure the spikes weren't that high. They were pretty much going straight at the glove," Duncan said. "I've done it before. Never had a reaction like that."

Duncan's hard grounder glanced off third baseman Evan Longoria's glove for an error and rolled up the line in foul territory. Duncan rounded first and hesitated before taking off for second - a move the Rays perceived as conclusive evidence he had ill intentions.

Longoria's throw to Iwamura beat the runner by at least 10 feet, but Duncan went into the bag hard anyway.

"No question that was a blatant attempt to hurt Aki," Maddon said. "It was set up. It was planned. It was premeditated. It's all the above. I don't know what the difference is between that and a high stick in hockey. But it was that bad."

Yankees third base coach Bobby Meacham and hitting coach Kevin Long also were ejected by the umpires, who met with Girardi and Maddon before the game. Crew chief Jerry Crawford had no comment afterward.

New York left-hander Heath Phillips was ejected in the first inning after one of his pitches appeared to graze Longoria's shirt. The Rays already had two runs and three hits in the inning.

"What happened the other day set the tone, showing us how hard they're going to play. You see their intensity level, you try to match it," Duncan said. "We need to wake up a little bit. We need to play hard as well."

Girardi, criticized by former Yankees bench coach and current Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer for comments the New York manager made after Saturday's game, was unapologetic, adding that he would have to see a replay to determine if the play was dirty.

"You don't ever want things to get ugly, and I don't think it got ugly. I think the umpires stopped it before it got ugly," Girardi said.

"Shelley told me that he was taught when you're going to be out, you go after the ball. ... Shelley made a hard, aggressive slide, and I would have to look at a replay to really determine what I thought."

Gomes' view from right field was different.

The 225-pound slugger took off as soon as Duncan slid into Iwamura. He knocked Duncan back a few feet, and the Yankees first baseman held his hands up as if to ask: "What did I do?"

"I wasn't really trying to get a shot in on him. I probably could have done a lot of things worse," Gomes said. "But it is a baseball field, and there are fans and kids watching."

Duncan said he was baffled by the benches clearing. Gomes wasn't buying it.

"He did what he said he was going to do," the Rays outfielder said.

The teams play again in a split-squad game Saturday in Tampa.

Once again, Girardi said he doesn't expect any carry-over. The Rays, who will face the Yankees 18 times during the regular season, aren't so sure.

"It's going to be kind of hard for it not to," Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton said.

"When we go out and play the Yankees the next time, we're going to play it hard and play it right. Period," Maddon said. "That's how we come to the ballpark every day."

Spring training brawls are rare, but there was one at the same ballpark in 1987 after Boston pitcher Al Nipper hit Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry with a pitch - payback for Strawberry's slow home run trot in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.