BOSTON — The Red Sox followed baseball's age-old guide to policing in Wednesday's brawl with the Yankees. They stuck to the sport's standard for unity and toughness. In all the ways they looked bad last April, when Matt Barnes threw at Manny Machado, the Sox looked good Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
Tyler Austin and Joe Kelly were ejected after the former charged the mound in the seventh inning. Kelly hit Austin with a 98 mph fastball on what looked like the second attempt to drill Austin in the at-bat. Austin's crime — and it was a crime as constituted in baseball — was sliding into second base with an elevated left foot in the third inning, catching Brock Holt’s right leg (but not badly).
But this penal system, which the Sox certainly did not design, is all sorts of messed up.
Christian Vazquez thinks the Yankees are going to take a shot at the Red Sox now. He’s probably right.
What kind of dispute-resolution mechanism doesn't actually end the dispute? Or has a punishment that often doesn't really fit the crime?
We have to reiterate the Sox handled the situation properly. And by properly, we mean relative to baseball’s accepted practice.
Keith Foulke on Twitter gave the thumbs up emoji. Pedro Martinez applauded Kelly.
The worst part of the brawl, at least upon initial review, was probably the punch Austin landed to the left side of Sox third-base coach Carlos Febles’ head. Febles didn’t appear to do anything other than try to pull away people.
Kelly landed some punches on Austin while Austin was on the ground, and punches on the ground aren’t usually looked upon well. But Austin did charge Kelly. Kelly also had some bruising on his neck, and his jersey was torn.
The Sox had to do something, lest their credibility as a unit be questioned. Holt was unharmed by Austin’s slide, but he could have been hurt.
“Sliding with the cleats up is a no-no in baseball,” Martinez wrote. “That means fight fight fight!”
(Holt admitted he didn’t handle the situation perfectly. When the benches first cleared in the third inning because of the slide, no punches were thrown, but maybe the benches didn’t have to clear. "I probably said something I probably shouldn’t have to start it off,” Holt said. “I just wanted him to know it was a bad slide. I think he knows that now.”)
The Sox were skewered last April for how they handled Machado’s high slide. Credit for not making the same mistake twice.
But should this form of retaliation still be allowed? And is it effective?
The drama of the Red Sox and Yankees hoping to pummel each other is appealing to many: fans, media. Who isn't pumped that the rivalry's intensity is growing?
“Red Sox-Yankees, that’s what everybody wants,” David Price said dryly, with what sounded like an implied eye roll. “That’s what they got.”
For as much legislation as commissioner Rob Manfred has undertaken in baseball, it’s strange to think we’ve reached a limit on the number of times a pitching coach can walk to the mound, but there's no real deterrent on baseball’s old-school policing method: fastballs.
A fastball to the ribs, or the rear end, or the backstop, is almost exclusively the game’s recommended on-field punishment, no matter the grievance. And unfortunately, that punishment has always involved the potential for a pitch to the head. (Pitches elsewhere can cause injury too. See the Padres' Manuel Margot, who just went to the disabled list after a pitch to the ribs.)
Speed it up, kids. But, if you need occasionally injure someone to right a wrong, go for it.
The lone stumbling block to harsher punishment appears this: the only way to deter retaliation pitches is a huge penalty. But what if a pitch truly gets away from someone? Maybe that’s just a risk worth taking.
That brings us to what Vazquez acknowledged, what most people are thinking: something else is coming from the Yankees.
"You know that's coming. You know that's coming," Vazquez said. "They feel like us. The clubhouse is our second home. It's wanting to protect our home. So it will be something soon. If not this series maybe in New York."
If the initial crime was punished as it should be, why the hell would this thing continue?
Kelly said he was attacked. Can’t Austin argue he was attacked by a 98 mph fastball? Who was put in more physical danger, Holt or Austin? Austin, without a doubt.
The Sox followed standard operating procedure. But that doesn’t appear likely to bring us to a point of resolution, to a resolved dispute.
The Sox look and acted like a tough baseball team. They followed the age-old map of law and order. But this form of justice, entertaining as it may be, too often appears ineffective as it does dangerous.