Near brawl …

Nearly had a real dustup here in Clearwater. The scene: In the bottom of the sixth inning Ryan Howard, the Phillies’ terrific young power-hitting first baseman, hit a ball to center off Josh Beckett that Howard thought was gone. It stayed in the yard, and Beckett took exception to Howard showboating down the line while the ball was in flight. ‘Tek went out to calm him down.

Come the top of the seventh, Howard went out to field his position, and Beckett kept yapping at him. Howard walked to his position and kept going, heading for the visiting dugout. He was within 10 feet of Beckett, who was on the top step, and it really looked like they were going to go. Woulda been a great one: Howard is listed at 6-4, 252, Beckett at 6-5, 222. Wily Mo Pena, somewhere in the 245 to 260 range, was two steps behind Beckett. And Rudy Seanez, who trains with ultimate fighters in the offseason, was the first guy out of the bullpen.

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But someone stepped up to hold Beckett back, and Howard’s teammates wrapped him up. Bullpens cleared. Beckett was due up to begin the inning. No surprise: Tito pinch hit Willie Harris.