MINNEAPOLIS -- Jason Varitek figured he did what he needed to do. As Alex Rodriguez all but baited Bronson Arroyo into a confrontation Saturday at Fenway Park, Varitek traded insults with the Yankee superstar, then accepted Rodriguez's invitation to fight ("Come on") and shoved Rodriguez in the face, setting off a benches-clearing brawl.
"I was just trying to protect Bronson," Varitek said afterward. "For protecting a teammate, I'll take whatever comes."
It came yesterday: a four-game suspension and a $2,000 fine.
Varitek was one of eight players, including five Red Sox, disciplined by Major League Baseball for their roles in the latest violent installment of the ancient rivalry. Rodriguez also took a four-game and $2,000 hit, while Gabe Kapler, Trot Nixon, and Yankees pitcher Tanyon Sturtze each were suspended for three games and fined $1,000. Boston's Curt Schilling and David Ortiz and New York center fielder Kenny Lofton were each fined $500.
Bob Watson, MLB's vice president of on-field operations, ordered Varitek, Rodriguez, and Sturtze to begin serving their suspensions today. Kapler was scheduled to begin serving his penalty Tuesday and Nixon's timeout was to begin when he returns from the disabled list. But all five players who were suspended lodged appeals, which means their penalties will be held in abeyance until the process is completed.
Sox officials declined through a spokesman to comment on the development. The Sox, who had the day off in Minneapolis on the second leg of a four-city trip, also were bracing for Watson's ruling on Ortiz's appeal of his five-game suspension for a tirade against umpires July 16 in Anaheim, Calif. Even if Watson reduces Ortiz's penalty by one or two games, the slugger most likely will be ordered to begin serving his suspension when the ruling is announced, possibly today.
Rodriguez, as expected, considered his punishment unfair, even though Kapler may present the strongest case that he was drawn into the violence by Sturtze ambushing him from behind and locking him in a chokehold.
"I thought it was too much, four games," Rodriguez told reporters in the Bronx yesterday. "I was surprised it was that harsh."
Rodriguez contended he was a victim, saying he first was plunked by Arroyo and then became a target for Varitek, who struck the first blow of the melee.
"I was on my way to first base," Rodriguez said, "and I got punched in the mouth by a glove."
Or something like that. Rodriguez was so busy barking at Arroyo, then Varitek, that he almost seemed to lose his way to first base. In addition to twice telling Varitek, "Come on," Rodriguez exchanged a number of unpleasantries with the catcher.
Watson issued a statement saying Varitek and Rodriguez each were suspended "for inciting a bench-clearing incident and fighting."
Rodriguez believes he should have received a lighter suspension than Varitek.
"I think my time is going to come in front of Bob Watson," he said. "Hopefully, it'll be one or two games."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman sided with his third baseman.
"I don't think we're sitting here today if Jason just walks up the line with Alex," Cashman said. "I think A-Rod, four games, doesn't make sense. I thought we were a lot more peacemakers than the guys on the other side of the fence."
Sox manager Terry Francona wasn't buying Rodriguez's claim he was the victim.
"I'm not a lip reader, but I can read those lips," Francona said Wednesday of Rodriguez. "The word `victim' wasn't coming out."
Kapler, however, was doing nothing more than trying to pull players out of the scrum around Varitek and Rodriguez when Sturtze jumped him and began dragging him away by the neck. Afterward, Kapler found it odd that he was ejected while Sturtze was allowed to remain in the game.
"I was shocked to find out I was thrown out," Kapler said. "I didn't get it, to be honest with you."
Imagine his reaction to a three-game suspension when the Sox badly need him, particularly with Nixon sidelined indefinitely with a Grade 2 tear of his left quadriceps.
Ortiz supported Kapler's view of the episode.
"I saw that guy Sturtze choking the [expletive] out of Gabe," Ortiz said Saturday.
Sturtze's move against Kapler prompted Ortiz and Nixon to rush to their teammate's aid. Ortiz helped pull Sturtze off Kapler before Nixon and Kapler forcibly subdued Sturtze, perhaps too violently for Watson's tastes. Watson said Sturtze, Kapler, and Nixon were suspended "for fighting and for aggressive actions."
Sturtze emerged with a gash on his cheek and an injured right pinky.
"I don't know what Sturtze was thinking," Kevin Millar said Saturday, "because he had the wrong guys with Nixon and Kapler."
Francona shared Kapler's view of the incident.
"Gabe didn't do anything," Francona said Wednesday. "Thank goodness we're in this age where there's tape. You watch it. He's just protecting himself."
Sturtze, a Worcester native, saw it differently.
"I think three games is too much for me," he told reporters in New York. "I was just trying to get a guy off the pile and I ended up on an island over by the dugout."
Sturtze pitched one inning after the brawl before he departed to have X-rays on his finger. The injury forced him to miss his scheduled start last night. If Sturtze remains in the starting rotation, a three-game suspension would carry little weight, since he could serve it between starts.
Arroyo, who claimed he accidentally hit Rodriguez in the back with a sinking fastball on a 1-and-1 count with two outs and the bases empty in the third inning as the Yankees led, 3-0, was vindicated by Watson as he escaped disciplinary action. Arroyo suspected Lofton punched him in the back of the head during the brawl, but Watson apparently could not confirm the suspicion since Lofton received only a fine.
Watson characterized Lofton, Ortiz, and Schilling as "participants" in the encounter rather than aggressors. Schilling helped lead the charge out of the Sox dugout.
After the brawl, the Sox came back to win, 11-10, on Bill Mueller's two-run walkoff homer. The game was seen as a source of inspiration for the Sox, even if it extended the history of ugliness between the franchises.
"The situation has got to get better between these two teams," Ortiz said Saturday. "This situation was created in what, 1820? We weren't even born when it started."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.