Lou Piniella is known for his hot temper, but the Tampa Bay manager arrived in Boston bearing an olive branch. The Devil Rays have not played the Red Sox since April 24, when some unpleasantness erupted on the field. Pitches were thrown with nasty intent, there were two bench-clearing incidents, and eight fines and/or suspensions were handed out by the league. But yesterday, on a scorching afternoon, Piniella was as cool and calm as a United Nations diplomat while his club prepared for last night's return encounter.
''We came here to play baseball, nothing more," said Piniella. ''I would be the most surprised guy in the world if anything happens. We want to come in and play baseball, play as well as we can, win a couple of games, and get out of town. From our side, we want to play. Boston wants to play, and that's it."
The featured bout during the April altercation was between Sox right fielder Trot Nixon and Devil Rays pitcher Dewon Brazelton. Nixon was fined $3,000 and suspended two games. He appealed the penalty, then dropped the appeal and served his time May 3 and 4, when the Sox were in Detroit. Brazelton, who was fined $3,000 and suspended for five games, has yet to have his appeal heard, nearly three months after the incident.
Brazelton, who was Tampa Bay's Opening Day starter, has had a brutal campaign (1-8, 6.87 ERA) and he was sent to the minors May 11. But he refused to report to the Devil Rays' Triple A affiliate in Durham, N.C., and was placed on the restricted list from May 16 to June 3. When he was taken off the list, he was assigned to Double A Montgomery. He was recalled by Tampa June 24. He has since pitched out of the bullpen in six games.
''I'm not going to talk about it," said Brazelton. ''When they tell me to do whatever, I'll do whatever. I was hoping it wouldn't be brought up anymore. I have no problem with the guy [Nixon]. It's a game, and I'm just hoping to play. I felt really bad that it happened in the first place. It was two men who got hot. I'm not an idiot or a heathen. I was embarrassed it got to that point anyway. I said that when it happened."
Two batters were hit in last night's 3-1 Tampa Bay win, both Devil Rays. Sox starter Wade Miller hit the game's second batter, Carl Crawford, with a fastball, and also drilled Julio Lugo in the fifth inning. But there were no signs of retaliation from the Devil Rays.
Piniella's team is still 30 games below .500, so he has plenty else to worry about. But he has been following Johnny Damon's hitting streak, which was ended at 29 games last night.
''Twenty-nine is a pretty nice feat," said Piniella, no slouch at the plate in his day. ''That's a whole month of getting a hit every day. The best streak I ever had was 22. To go 29 is impressive.
''But 56? DiMaggio must have been pretty good, don't you think?"