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ON BASEBALL

Nixon the one in the middle

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon wasn't one of the seven batters hit by pitches here this weekend, while Devil Rays pitcher Dewon Brazelton had the weekend off, having started for the Devil Rays Thursday.

But they were among the six people in uniform ejected in the aftermath of yesterday's bench-clearing affair between the Sox and Devil Rays, who emptied the dugouts twice in the course of the afternoon (and haven't we heard that one before when these teams play?), and could face additional punishment depending on the whims of baseball's enforcer, Bob Watson.

Nixon -- who streaked from the dugout toward the mound in the seventh after Tampa Bay reliever Lance Carter knocked down David Ortiz with a fastball headed toward the cranium, just a couple of pitches after throwing a fastball behind Manny Ramirez -- soon found himself in the clutches of Brazelton, who palmed Nixon's face and, according to the Sox player, stuck his finger in his eye.

After huddling during a nine-minute delay, the umpires determined Nixon and Brazelton would have to go, along with Carter and Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, who earned an automatic exit because umpires had issued a warning to Carter after the pitch behind Ramirez.

"Nixon and Brazelton were escalating the situation," umpiring crew chief Rick Reed told a pool reporter. "In fact, Nixon was asked a couple of times to leave the area. He continued to make aggressive comments. Brazelton was out of control also."

In the bottom of the inning, Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo and manager Terry Francona were told to vacate the premises after Arroyo, who had hit Aubrey Huff in the sixth, zinged a pitch off Chris Singleton's leg.

In situations like these, it's rare to get an accurate accounting of who was throwing at whom, and why. "Some things," said Kevin Millar, admitting to nothing, "have to stay between the circles."

"They're going to have their version, and we're going to have ours," said Francona, noting that neither he nor Piniella was here nearly five years ago, Aug. 29, 2000, when Pedro Martinez hit Devil Rays leadoff man Gerald Williams in a game that produced eight ejections (all Devil Rays), two injured Sox players (Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni), and enough ill will to spawn annual plunk-a-thons when the Sox come here.

Last week, Watson suspended Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson a game after one of his umpires, Greg Gibson, took umbrage after reading Jackson's lips (Francona's version). That would seem to make it a lock that more suspensions are in the offing after yesterday's breakout of hostilities.

Nixon was suspended five games for a 2002 incident in which his bat flew in the direction of Devil Rays pitcher Ryan Rupe after Rupe had hit Shea Hillenbrand and Nomar Garciaparra with pitches. His reaction to the suggestion that he might be forced to sit again?

"I better not," he said. "I mean, I shouldn't."

Nixon said he didn't do anything that warranted his ejection.

"No, not really," he said, "not after a certain person grabbed at my eye. That ignited me. That made me furious.

"I went out toward Carter. I could have gone out there and hurt Carter, but I'm not going to do that. That just wouldn't be right. I wasn't going to do anything to him. That's a cheap shot. That's stupid."

Brazelton, Nixon said, was yelling at him to stay away from Carter, and then stuck his finger in his left eye. It was the same eye, he said, that his toddler, Chase, accidentally hit two years ago, scratching his cornea, leaving him with blurred vision, and causing him to go to then-manager Grady Little and say he couldn't play. "I wasn't comfortable with my vision for almost three weeks," he said. "So whether he intended to do it or not, that doesn't matter.

"I think Mr. Reed thought I was threatening [Brazelton] or whatever, but I wasn't threatening him. I was just giving him information."

That information wasn't Kathryn Nixon's recipe for peach cobbler.

"What ignited me the most is that he was grabbing at my face," Nixon said. "I was giving him information about what I'd do to him if he's going to do some crap like that, you know."

Brazelton, who is 24 and in just his second full season in the big leagues, seemed abashed by the whole episode.

"I'm embarrassed I got thrown out of the ballgame," he said. "Normally when you go out there, it's a song and dance, but in this case, I was trying to protect our pitcher. Nobody wants to hurt anybody; that's just baseball.

"But we had just had two really hard-fought games and sometimes emotion gets the best of you. I'm an educated fellow, but that was uneducated. I really have more class than that. I was just trying to protect our pitcher."

Arroyo hitting Huff with two out and nobody on in the sixth certainly looked suspicious, the kind of act that might invite retaliation.

"I dont know what their intentions were, if any at all," Nixon said. "They have some young pitchers over there, and when you have young pitchers, with certain hitters, they try to do too much. You just don't want to see balls going at people's heads. That ball was right at Ortiz's head. Ortiz is a vital part of our ball club and that upset me."

But in a cooler moment, Nixon was saying of Brazelton, "I hear he's a pretty good kid. I don't know what Brazelton's intentions were. I've got no ill will toward anyone over there. We've been in situations, but it's never been like, `I despise these guys.' I don't. But Brazelton stepped over the line with me."

And you thought emotions ran high when the Yankees were in the other dugout? Piniella said the Devil Rays won't be intimidated just because the Sox are champs.

Ortiz blamed Piniella for not teaching his players how to play right. "They have to play professional," Ortiz said. "You've got a wild bunch of young players out there, teach them how to play the game, but you got to disrespect nobody, you know what I'm saying? The most respect you show to people is the most respect you get. That's how it is."

Singleton said that after he was hit, Sox catcher Jason Varitek said to him, `It's got to end, it's got to end.' "

Singleton's response? "Why didn't it end last inning?"

Doesn't sound like it's going to end any time soon, does it?

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