HOUSTON - Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp figured he did about as well as could be expected yesterday, having his suspension reduced from seven games to five by John McHale Jr., the executive vice president of Major League Baseball who heard his appeal this week.
Crisp will begin serving his suspension tonight and will miss the last two games of the Astros series and the scheduled three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla. That is of small comfort to the Rays, the other team in the June 5 brawl at Fenway Park. They reacted with disbelief at the news Crisp's penalty was reduced. Their annoyance was heightened by McHale's decision to uphold the three-game suspension given to Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who will miss the series opener.
"First of all, the fact that after the appeal that we made the other day that Aki's suspension was not reduced, I'm kind of baffled by it," Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters in Pittsburgh last night.
"I don't agree with it at all. I thought it should have been reduced. I thought it was way too severe, because of the fact that we were reacting to a situation. And then furthermore, the guy that pretty much created the entire moment gets his reduced by two. Honestly, none of that makes any sense to me whatsoever."
Even more outspoken was pitcher James Shields, who hit Crisp with a pitch the night after he slid hard into Iwamura's ankle. Crisp reacted by charging the mound, which set off the melee.
"I'm not happy about it at all," Shields said.
"[Crisp] is the one who charged me. He's the one that instigated the whole thing. I don't agree with it . . . but there's nothing we can do about it."
Crisp spoke by phone with his agent, Steve Comte, when he arrived in the visitors' clubhouse yesterday, then met briefly with manager Terry Francona.
"I guess that's pretty good," he said of the reduction, adding that at best, he figured McHale might lop three games off.
Asked what McHale had offered by way of explanation for his decision, Crisp professed not to know ("They sent me a paper"), although Francona said he wasn't sure if he was at liberty to say.
"I have no sanction to report my decision to anyone other than the parties to the hearing," McHale wrote in an e-mail last night.
Eight players were suspended in the aftermath of the brawl - Crisp, Sean Casey (three games), and Jon Lester (five games) on the Sox' side, and five players from the Rays.
"I didn't think anything was going to happen in Tampa if I played in those games," Crisp said when asked if MLB had timed his suspension as a hedge against a resumption of hostilities.
"For precautionary reasons, I guess this lets everything cool down."
The reason he didn't think there would be further problems?
"I think everybody is going to go out and play baseball," he said. "This is a whole new series. There's other stuff you can point to."
The Rays began the night a half-game behind the Sox in the American League East, and Crisp gave them their props.
"They've been playing well," he said. "They've come together. They've got good players, and it was a matter of when their young guys were going to jell."
Francona said he planned to play Jacoby Ellsbury last night, but since Crisp will sit the next five, he elected to put Crisp in the lineup. Francona said Manny Ramírez assured him he could play left field, that his tender hamstring felt very good. Ellsbury came in for Ramírez (0 for 4) in the seventh.
Crisp took no credit in making a persuasive case in his defense at the appeal hearing. "I didn't say much at all," he said. "I sat and let everyone else do the talking, and then I said my piece at the end. I think that was the best thing to do, to just sit there and not say anything."
Price is rightThe Sox signed Rice University righthander Bryan Price, their first-round sandwich pick (45th overall) in the amateur draft. They have now signed three of their top five picks, including righthander Stephen Fife of Utah and righthander Kyle Weiland of Notre Dame. Weiland threw four scoreless innings of relief, striking out four, for the short-season Lowell Spinners Thursday night.
Here is part of Baseball America's scouting report on Price:
"Though he had a durable 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame and a promising fastball, Price worked just 17 innings over his first two years at Rice because he lacked secondary pitches, command and mound presence. He started to make strides at the end of his sophomore season, and this spring he has consistently shown a 90-95 fastball with sink. His hard slider has topped out at 87 m.p.h., though it has devolved into more of a slurve at times. His control still needs work but has improved. He has an intriguing changeup but doesn't trust it enough to use it much in games. His lack of a track record is a concern, though he'll probably go in the sandwich to second round."
The Sox also signed their 10th-round selection, righthander Pete Ruiz from Santa Barbara City College, and their 41st-round pick, righthander Dustin Mercadante of San Diego Community College, to contracts with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. In addition, Boston agreed to terms with undrafted free agent shortstop Roberto Ramos of Elizabeth (N.J.) High School and assigned him to the Gulf Coast Red Sox.