A week away from Opening Day, Red Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez faces the likelihood of disciplinary action from Major League Baseball after punching Devil Rays outfielder Joey Gathright in the chin after a tag play at home plate Monday afternoon in City of Palms Park.
The play took place in the eighth inning of the Sox’ 12-11 win over the Devil Rays at City of Palms Park. Tavarez was covering the plate because the catcher Ken Huckaby had Julio Lugo caught between first and second after his base hit sent Gathright to third. Huckaby ran toward Lugo, then threw to second baseman Zach Borowiak, a Sox minor-leaguer.
Gathright broke to the plate, Borowiak threw home, and Tavarez tagged the runner out. A frame by frame examination of photographs taken of the play, however, show Tavarez stepping on Gathright's left arm after the play and possibly was saying something to the Devil Rays player.
Gathright placed his hand on Tavarez's left knee and attempted to push it away, at which point Tavarez cocked his right fist. Gathright was still on one knee when Tavarez threw a roundhouse right, catching Gathright in the area of his chin and knocking his batting helmet off. Tavarez can then be seen pulling back his arm and throwing another punch, which appeared to glance off Gathright's shoulder.
Devil Rays teammates Carl Crawford and Greg Norton grabbed Tavarez, and Norton body-slammed Tavarez to the ground, Crawford on Norton's back, with Gathright underneath the players. Both benches emptied -- Trent Durrington was in the middle of the pile -- and both Tavarez and Gathright were ejected. When Hee Seop Choi was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the eighth by Wayne Franklin, umpires warned both teams.
Tavarez admitted that he stepped on Gathright, saying he had lifted his leg because he expected a hard slide (click this audio link for Tavarez's take); the D-Rays were livid, manager Joe Maddon calling for Tavarez to be suspended.
"I think that was a sucker punch,'' Crawford said. Said Gathright: "I slid and he was standing on my arm. I can even show you the marks. I tried to push his knee back. As I was getting up, he swung at me.''
Tavarez has a history of on-field incidents. In one of the more recent incidents, he swung at a dugout phone during the NLCS in 2004 and hurt his hand. He was fined $10,000 by MLB for throwing a pitch over Jeff Bagwell's head in the same game.
Bob Watson, baseball's chief disciplinarian, is certain to investigate.