In one way, it was like a heavyweight bout -- the Brita Meng Outzen snapshots the only documented proof of the incident -- much like when Buster Douglas put Mike Tyson on the mat, the rights to the video highlights locked up by pay-per-view entities that won’t share with Mike Lynch and the like.
On the other hand, it was nothing like your average fight night, in that, according to Tampa Bay’s Joey Gathright, Julian Tavarez “hits like a woman.”
Sooner or later a Zapruder version of yesterday’s incident will surface no doubt, a Fort Myers fan recording Tavarez’s knockdown of Gathright on his or her Razr. Not that Major League Baseball needs such a video to exist. Bob Watson can take the Meng photos and create his own flipbook if he wants, but from the stills alone baseball’s disciplinarian has enough evidence to suspend Tavarez for yet another skirmish on his blemished resume.
By the end of this season, Tavarez’s antics might make Carl Everett seem like John Lennon. He’s bound to open his mouth again and spit out dumber statements than he did after yesterday’s fight at the dish. He makes Keith Foulke sound like a public relations guru.
Gathright's assessment that Tavarez's sucker-punch "was such a woman move" is an insult to women everywhere. And the Red Sox fan who heckled Devil Rays third base coach Tom Foley about his rear end didn't exactly resurrect the embarrassing image Red Sox fans are receiving across the country as a bunch of loudmouth blowhards.
Still, the most egregious aspect of Boston's 12-11 win over the Rays was quite obviously Tavarez, who with his latest stunt certainly has not endeared himself to Red Sox Nation, nor does it seem his teammates, either, based on their reaction time yesterday. The reliever appeared to be (at least from the pictures) swarmed by a sea of teal before any Sox players arrived to his rescue.
''I'm not mad at myself," Tavarez said afterward. "I love myself, bro. Why should I be mad at myself?"
Uh, right. Sure thing, dude.
To be fair, the Red Sox, and everybody else for that matter, knew what they were getting into when they inked Tavarez in the offseason to a rather rich two-year deal: an unstable personality with serious anger issues. Foulke's "Johnny from Burger King" is a Hallmark greeting compared to Tavarez's 2001 outburst in San Francisco when he said, "Why should I care about the fans? They are nothing but a bunch of [expletives] and [pejorative term for gays] here. That's what they are."
Why do I get the feeling Boston Dirt Dogs is going to have quite the time with Tavarez all summer long? Every time he takes the mound I'm going to have that ticking pounding sound usually associated with Jack Bauer in the back of my mind.
A season ago with St. Louis, Tavarez was one of the best setup men in all of baseball, his 32 holds second to only Tom Gordon and Scot Shields, who both had 33. That's a role the Red Sox obviously lacked in last in 2005, not only because of the ineptitude of their bullpen as a whole, but because default setup man Mike Timlin was depended upon to close once Foulke broke down. It can seriously be debated whether Tavarez is the right guy for this job, a dubious offseason signing that is already foreshadowing trouble.
Inked to a two-year, $6.7 million deal in January, Tavarez returns to the American League for the first time since 1996 in Cleveland, and let's just say he hasn't exactly pitched in a lot of pressure-cooked atmospheres. He has played in a pre-Pac Bell San Francisco with the Giants (1997-99) and in front of clueless Colorado fans (2000), laissez-faire Cubs fans (2001), apathetic Marlins fans (2002), Pirates fans (2003), and "Hey, clap for everyone," St. Louis drones (2004-05). This could get ugly, quickly should he struggle out of the gate.
If he's with the club out of the gate that is, a suspension certainly forthcoming from Major League Baseball.
Of course, all this occurred a day after Josh Beckett shouted at Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard for showboating on a deep fly ball that the hitter apparently figured was leaving the yard. Beckett took offense to Howard's big-timing in (yawn) March, and let him know a few things about it. And then after the inning, let him know a few more things.
Benches cleared. No punches were thrown.
But let's get one thing straight, besides that difference these were not parallel incidents. On Sunday, Beckett had choice words for Howard for showing him up, a fiery reaction in which the only downfall was that he kept on yapping when he probably should have shut his mouth. Yesterday ... well, you saw the photos. To compare the two situations and put both pitchers in the same camp is nothing short of imprudent.
This wasn't exactly Red Sox-Yankees, A-Rod-Varitek, A-Rod-Arroyo, Sheffield-House. This was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, that harmless little team from Florida that seems to be etched arm and arm with the Sox in throwdown history. It's also spring training, which makes the thing all the more absurd.
When asked if he regretted hitting Gathright yesterday, Tavarez responded, ''What do you mean, 'regret'? I wish I don't have to [throw a punch], because I'm not here to fight, you know. Little things happen in baseball, you know. No big deal."
He's right. Except for the impending suspension, which might only be a few games, it is no huge deal. The bigger issue lays down the road, when this is certain to happen again. Guaranteed. Tavarez is a ticking time bomb of controversy ready to explode in the midst of Red Sox Nation.
Oh, and the Devil Rays come to Fenway April 18. Asked by the St. Pete Times if the incident might spread over to that meeting, Jonny Gomes said, "I hope not, but these are grown men and you never know who's holding a grudge."
We'll take that as a "probably."