The wheels were turning; a mass introspection was occurring. You knew the Red Sox were thinking, "What can we do to get this going in the right direction again?" following a devastating 8-7 loss Friday night to the Yankees. It was obvious management wasn't ready to shake this up with a blockbuster trade, or they would have done it already. They were leaving it up to the players to take matters into their own hands. What could bring out the emotions of a team that had been accused of being lifeless? Maybe a good, old-fashioned Yankees-Red Sox brawl, like the one that occurred in the third inning? Perfect. When Bill Mueller's ninth-inning two-run homer off Mariano Rivera gave the Sox an improbable 11-10 win yesterday, they knew the brawl just might be the beginning of a turnaround.
Beating Rivera was a bigger boost than the brawl, but the fracas stirred the emotions. If they could overcome four errors and horrible relief pitching, the brawl would go far. It wasn't planned, but this latest episode of Yankee hatred came at the right time. Go after the best player in the game, the new centerpiece of the Yankees, get him tossed, ruffle some feathers, and then go out and win the game.
Trailing, 3-0, in the third inning, Bronson Arroyo, who was starting to get hit around, and who had allowed a leadoff double to Bernie Williams, and a single to Derek Jeter with no outs, plunked Rodriguez on the left side (Arroyo said it was off the elbow pad). Rodriguez began walking toward first base, jawing at Arroyo, screened by home plate umpire Bruce Froemming and Jason Varitek, who seemed to be trying to calm Rodriguez, before things got out of hand.
Rodriguez, who emerged in the Yankee clubhouse after the game with a bruised left temple and a welt on the right cheek, was seen mouthing the words, "Let's go!" Varitek took the first swat at Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in the game, then hit him flush in the middle of the face with an open hand. It then escalated into a bench-clearing, bullpen-clearing brawl, which ended with Varitek and Rodriguez being ejected. After the game it was announced that Gabe Kapler and Kenny Lofton had also been tossed.
Is it any surprise Varitek was involved?
The Sox' de facto captain sets the emotional tone for the team and had been trying to find a way to change things for the better. Nobody had taken Friday night's loss worse than Varitek.
"I play the game with emotion," said Varitek. "It doesn't matter what I do. I hate to have a fight incite more emotion. But you're talking about one of the greatest players in the game, and he lost his emotions. I lost mine. It's not a good thing for our sport."
A team that fights together wins together, not like when Mike Greenwell once called his teammates "wimps and fairies" when they failed to accompany him out of the dugout to protect pitcher Mike Smithson.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who was ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a play at second base, almost said as much.
"I hope we look back a while from now and we're saying that this brought us together," he said. "We were talking about that yesterday. How you never know what can make your team stronger."
Varitek and Rodriguez were quickly separated, but the semi-main event was an eventual 3 on 1 with Gabe Kapler, David Ortiz, and Trot Nixon (who came all the way from right field) battling Yankee Tanyon Sturtze near the backstop. It seemed as though Sturtze avoided most of an Ortiz uppercut, which was partially blocked as he tried to escape from being restrained. Ortiz, already in enough trouble after being slapped with a five-game suspension for his tirade July 16 in Anaheim, Calif., could face more discipline.
Kapler, who seemed one of the most aggressive players in the scrap, had a headlock on Sturtze and then wrestled him to the ground. Sturtze suffered a cut around his left ear, and blood was dripping down his face. Sturtze came back for the bottom of the third and did not retaliate against Sox hitters. Instead, Boston scored twice, making it a 3-2 game. Sturtze was done for the day, taken out because of a bruise on his right pinkie. X-rays were negative.
"I was just trying to grab people off the top and someone ended up grabbing me from behind," Sturtze said. "It was a disappointing day. I didn't want to come out of the game. I felt I had good stuff today on both sides of the plate and I kind of wasted it. It was my job to suck up some innings, but you don't think about that as something is going on on the field. You've got a teammate out there. You're going to run out there."
Froemming said after the game, "A-Rod was walking to first base. There was a verbal exchange. Varitek wanted to get in between them. I tried to save it but once they broke the seal, you have to get out of there."
Froemming said decisions on the ejections were easy. "Two guys fighting, they're gone," he said.
Asked if he thought Varitek had incited the episode to get the Sox going, Rodriguez said, "I don't care what he's thinking and I'm not even going to enter that. When you're in the heat of the moment you wish you could control your emotions, but I just didn't like that. I smelled something funny there. I don't remember what I said. I don't remember what I said to Arroyo, either." Arroyo seemed surprised by Rodriguez's reaction. "I threw a sinker in there," said Arroyo. "The ball moved into him and got him on the elbow pad. If I had thrown a straight four-seamer and hit him in the ribs, maybe it looks obvious. Alex was telling me to throw the ball over the plate. Varitek's telling him to shut his mouth and go to first base, and that was it. It started."
And on this day, the underdogs won the fight, and a game that meant so much to the Red Sox.