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Home » June 2008 Game CommentsJune 2008 » Fisticuffs


Game 63: June 5, 2008
Rays 1 L: James Shields (4-4) 35-25, 3 game losing streak
WinRed Sox 7 W: Jon Lester (4-3) 38-25, 3 game winning streak
Highlights: Tampa Bay Rays: first place talent, last place class. Only a team like the Rays could trade away Elijah Dukes (who allegedly threatened to kill his wife and children and allegedly impregnated a 17-year old foster child who was living with his relatives) and actually decrease the team character quotient. Lester kept his cool throughout his six and third innings, and evenly slyly got in a smattering of plunks as well as pitches inside and behind the knees while he was at it. To be sure some were off-speed stuff, but there may have been a measure of subtle reciprocity propelling his pitches.

The saga of Coco Crisp’s animus towards the Rays continued. The Rays stupidly retaliated in the second inning with the score 3-1 and one of their better pitchers on the mound. Whether it was Joe Maddon’s fiat or James Shields’s initiative, as a whole Tampa Bay obviously doesn’t think of the bigger picture, or at all.

The upstart team’s need to avenge themselves because of the chirpy center fielder superseded their desire to avoid a sweep in a still-winnable and keep pace with their nearest divisional competitors. To his credit Shields didn’t aim above the shoulders, unlike other Rays pitchers we could name: he hit Crisp in an acceptable anatomical area. But Shields had already hit Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. In the unwritten rulebook hitting a player in the same position as the one who was sinned against (in this case Akinori Iwamura) events the credits and debits between teams on the ledger on revenge.

Hitting Crisp escalated the eye for an eye exchange between the clubs, and Tampa Bay underestimated Crisp’s frustration. To be sure the incidents in these series have set him off, but Crisp is a player awaiting a reason to detonate. When he first arrived the town was abuzz: there were commercials devoted to him (one featured his father, a former boxer), he hit like a man possessed, and he made spectacular plays on the field. His momentum was abruptly halted when he injured himself in Baltimore back in April of 2006 and hasn't been quite the same since. The defensive prowess is there, but that is something that rookie Jacoby Ellsbury can match. With Ellsbury’s emergence, Crisp has found himself riding pine more often than he would like.

This is not a man who would take a plunking lightly.

Crisp feigned to take his base after he was hit in the hip but then charged the mound. He easily evaded Shields’s punch and landed a shot on the pitcher’s shoulder before being tackled by Dioner Navarro. Thus pinned, Jonny Gomes, Carl Crawford, and Akinori Iwamura saw fit to literally hit a man while he was down.

In a separate scrum DeMarlo Hale took down Shields and a horde of Red Sox players reached that pileup in time to pummel the pitcher a bit. The NESN camera crew didn’t linger as long on that throng, so the exact extent of Shields’s beatdown is difficult to discern, but Sean Casey and and Kevin Youkilis were there quickly to mete out punishment.

In the end, Crisp, Shields, and Gomes were immediately ejected. In the inevitable national coverage of the rumpus, Gomes, in my opinion the most egregious example of unsporting behavior, is referred to as “another Devil Rays player.” Despite all of Tampa’s efforts, the Today show didn’t even realize the franchise changed its nickname.

Incredibly, the skirmish wasn’t the only storyline of the evening. Chris Carter pinch ran for Crisp in the second and scored his first major league run. He singled up the middle in his first at bat in the bottom of the fourth and could not help but show his joy when he made it to first. Fenway stood as one to applaud him. Carter’s success at the dish apparently convinced Maddon that he was the second coming of David Ortiz as he put on the shift in the call-up’s second at bat. Carter cunningly aimed his second major league hit through the vacated left side of the infield.

Despite his showing, Carter will be optioned back to Pawtucket because of the sudden dearth of Red Sox outfielders. Ellsbury rolled his wrist in his fourth-inning effort to snare Evan Longoria’s fly to right-center. The center fielder held on to the ball but was pulled from the game. X-rays were negative and Ellsbury is day-to-day, but Brandon Moss will be recalled to shore up the outfield.

In the post-game show David McCarty mentioned how the testosterone was flowing. The aggression it brought about was not limited to opposing teams: in the dugout Manny Ramirez went after Youkilis after the two seemed to be congratulating each other.

Ramirez had launched a tape measure, three-run shot in the first and had just driven in two more runs in the fourth. Maybe “Nice job, Manny” sounds like “L’Montro has to fix those heinous dreads, Manny” in Spanish.

The Red Sox’s tumultuous evening along with the Celtics’ 98-88 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals (replete with a stomach-churning Paul Pierce injury and subsequent triumphant return) made for yet another sensational night that will go down Boston sports lore.

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