Yesterday saw the weirdest and most interesting game of the season, a 10-6 Tigers win over the Yankees that saw eight ejections, four batters hit by pitches, three bench clearings, and a whole bunch of legitimate punches.
Some people will tell you this was bad for baseball. That it was ugly and dangerous and shameful. Those people are wrong. Basebrawls are just about the most compelling thing that can happen in a baseball game—perhaps because they are so rare—and should be treasured.
Here are my five favorite moments from yesterday’s donnybrook:
5) Gary Sanchez becomes a heel
Every brawl needs a villain. Gary Sanchez is the Yankees’ best slugger, and that apparently extends to slugging defenseless opponents. Sanchez had every reason to be mad—it was his plunking after homering against Detroit for the fourth time in three games that set the table for this mess—but these sucker punches were something else.
Sanchez punched Miguel Cabrera in the pile, then after being pulled away by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, came back to punch a similarly prone Nick Castellanos:
When the suspensions are doled out, it’ll be games missed for Cabrera, for Alex Wilson, and likely some others, but no one is going to have as much unpaid time off as Gary Sanchez. His reputation will last even longer than that.
“Sanchez is going to wear it,” Pedro Martinez said. “Cheap shots will stay around the league for ever.”
4) The Tigers’ internecine beef
Sanchez’s rogue punchfest led to one of the weirder aftershocks of this mess. During the cooldown from the brawl, the Tigers’ Victor Martinez tried to play peacemaker and had what looked like a relatively friendly chat with Sanchez. That didn’t sit well with Castellanos or with Justin Verlander, who let Martinez know exactly what they thought.
After the game, Castellanos and Verlander declined to comment, and Martinez wasn’t in the clubhouse.
3) Alex Wilson says Yeah, I did it
An inevitable part of all brawls is the pitchers denying that their beanballs were purposeful. They’re usually lying, but it’s clear why they do: There’s little to be gained by fessing up, and much to lose, since they can be suspended for longer now that their intention is no longer hazy. Alex Wilson wants everyone to know he was definitely throwing at Todd Frazier.
“It was pretty obvious,” Wilson said. “You’ve gotta take care of your teammates sometimes. At some point, you’ve gotta make a stand for yourself.”
The Yankees had hit two Tigers batters in the seventh, both probably unintentionally—the game was tied and there were no outs and indeed, both runners came around to score—but Wilson’s retaliation in the eighth was a no-doubter.
“(Frazier) basically said, ‘You did it on purpose,’ and I said, ‘Hey man, no hard feelings, but you’ve gotta understand the way this game’s going,’ and he told me, basically, ‘I got you or whatever,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘It could’ve been way worse,’” Wilson said.
Love the honesty.
2) The bullpen sprint
A reliably excellent part of every basebrawl is the long sprint in from the bullpen, as the relievers—and the bullpen catcher, usually still in full gear—charge toward the action like a wrestler making a run-in. Gotta have your teammates’ backs! Even if it’s 400 feet away and things will probably be wrapping up by the time you get there.
It was David Robertson leading the charge yesterday, reminding me of Graeme Lloyd’s charge in to murder Armando Benitez during the 1998 Yankees-Orioles brawl, the best brawl of my lifetime.
1) CC Sabathia laughs at chaos
The eighth-inning dustup looked like it’d be relatively calm, until Brett Gardner lost his mind (on his birthday, no less). What made him so angry? Joe Girardi claimed that Brad Ausmus said “fuck you” to Gardner, an allegation that Ausmus denied.
Whatever happened, CC Sabathia was enjoying it.
Yeah, that’s how I feel too.