Good morning Fackers. Last Friday, Yankee Stadium - with an eye towards its boxing past and eye towards a potential boxing future - hosted a press conference promoting the Miguel Cotto-Manny Pacquiao fight to be held November 14th in Las Vegas.
Then, on the day that we ran a post about boxing analyst and blog favorite Max Kellerman, a fight broke out in the Bronx. But before we get into the specifics of the bottom of the eighth inning, let's step back a bit.
On August 6th, a night in which former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was honored in a bizarre pre-game ceremony, in the opening game of the four game set against the Red Sox, Mark Melancon was on the mound in the eighth inning. The Yankees were ahead 13-4 and Dustin Pedroia was leading off the inning. After getting ahead 0-2, Melancon uncorked a 95 MPH four seam fastball over little Dusty's head. Four pitches later, Melancon pegged Pedroia in the back with another 95 MPH four seamer.
I didn't think it was intentional at the time. Why would the Yankees court trouble in a critical game in which they had a nine run lead? Others, particularly on the Red Sox side of things, weren't so sure. The Girardi Yankees have been far less shy than their predecessors when it comes to pitching inside, protecting their hitters, and the accompanying collateral damage. In the previous eight games against the Red Sox in 2009, the Yanks plunked nine batters, including Jason Bay by Melancon in his Major League debut on April 26th.
Regardless, nothing came of the Melancon incident against the Sox. He was sent down two days later to bring in a fresh arm after the 15 inning game and was recalled when rosters expanded on September 1st. In his first appearance after his recall, he pitched in Toronto on September 4th, where he proceeded to plunk John McDonald with a 93 MPH 1-0 four seamer. In that instance, the Yanks were down 3-0, there were runners on second and third with two outs, and the dangerous Aaron Hill was on deck. I highly doubt Melancon hit the offensively anemic McDonald to face Hill with the bases loaded.
All of this my long winded way of saying that despite excellent control in his minor league career (1.9 BB/9, 6 HBP and 5 WP in 53 AAA IP this year), Melancon has been a bit wild on the big boy mound this year, entering last night's appearance with 3 HBP, 1 WP, and 9 BB in 15 MLB IP. Deserved or not, Melancon may already have earned a reputation around the league as a bit of a head hunter.
Back to last night. Trailing 5-2 in the sixth inning, Sergio Mitre came up and in on Edwin Encarnacion, hitting him with the pitch. Nevermind that it was an 81 MPH changeup, the story will be that Encarnacion homered in his previous at bat and Mitre, getting bombed and with but one batter left to face on the night, exacted his revenge.
Two innings later, Melancon found himself on the mound again. The Yankees trailed 8-2 and there were two outs and no one on when Aaron Hill came to the plate. With his first pitch, Melancon hit Hill square in the back with a 93 MPH fastball. It may well have been intentional. However, it bears mentioning that Melancon had already thrown a wild pitch by that point, would throw another before his night was over, and would have another control challenged pitch ruled a passed ball against Jorge Posada. Immediately following the Hill HBP, Melancon threw five consecutive pitches out of the zone, before a Vernon Wells single ended his evening. On the night, just 13 of his 23 pitches (56.5%) were strikes.
Now none of what transpired in the bottom of the inning could or should be blamed on Joe Girardi. However, it was September 15th. The Yanks had a comfortable lead in all important races, were down seven runs with six outs to go, had a slew of September call-ups sitting on their bench, and had pitched Sergio Mitre, Edwar Ramirez, Melancon, and Mike Dunn on the night. That quartet of pitchers was a sure a sign as any that they weren't going all out to win this one. So why, oh why, were the full compliment of starting position players still in the game when the Yankees' win expectancy was one half of one percent?
Whatever the reason, they were all still in the game when Jorge Posada came to plate in the bottom of the eighth with no one on, one man out, the Yankees trailing by seven, and lefty Jesse Carlson on the mound. With his first pitch, Carlson threw a 90 MPH four seam fastball level with Posada's lower back, but well behind him. Posada took a step or two forward, but moved more laterally, toward the Jays dugout. He could be seen saying "You don't want to do that" a few times. The benches and bullpens needlessly emptied, both benches were warned, etc.
I certainly won't begrudge Carlson for doing what he thought was necessary to protect his teammates. It may not be civilized or pretty, but it does have a place in the game. What I do have an issue with is his throwing behind Posada. Aside from throwing at a batter's head, throwing behind a batter is the worst thing a pitcher can do. It exploits the hitter's tendency to do what he's trained to do on a pitch bearing in on him - turn and bail - and leads him right into the lion's den. Posada would likely have been less angry, and everyone better off, had Carlson just plunked him in the thigh.
Posada eventually drew a walk. That should have been the end of it. In fact, given what had transpired and the fact that Posada is both somewhat of a hot head and as slow a runner as there is on the Yankees' roster, he should have been pulled for a pinch runner. But he wasn't. Instead, he moved to second on Robinson Cano's single, then came around to score on Brett Gardner's double.
That's when things got interesting again. Carlson, who should have been backing up well behind the plate, took his sweet time getting there, taking a circuitous route down the first base line in foul territory, and pausing just before the path Posada took jogging from the plate to the dugout. Whether or not Carlson had any business even being in that spot at that time is up for debate. But Posada seized on the opportunity to foolishly throw an elbow at Carlson on his way by. Posada was immediately ejected. Words were exchanged, benches and bullpens emptied again, and this time we had an honest to goodness fight.
I'm not at all surprised that this happened. I'm not terribly upset that it did happen. But it certainly wasn't necessary. At times, these brawls can help a team come together - the Tino Martinez/Armando Benitez incident in early 1998 for example. This was not one of those times. By all accounts the Yankees have excellent team chemistry. For all intents and purposes these last 17 games serve as nothing more than getting things lined up for the post-season. Meanwhile the Blue Jays have absolutely nothing to play for at this point. The Yankees had everything to lose in this one, and the site of Posada, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte all being right in the thick of the fray was a something no one associated with the Yankees wanted to see.
Thankfully no one appeared to get injured. As Jay showed in the recap, Carlson wound up with a nice raspberry on his forehead. For the Yanks, Girardi may have taken the worst of it, getting a cut on his left ear and what Michael Kay repeatedly referred to as a "mouse" around his left eye. Kay attributed Girardi's rodent to John McDonald, who replays showed inadvertently caught Girardi in the face during the fracas. Nevermind that the replay, shown repeatedly, clearly showed McDonald hitting Girardi in the right side of his face - don't let the facts get in the way of the story you want to tell, Michael.
Anyway, this one isn't over yet. These two teams play again tomorrow. Thankfully it's their last meeting this year. Though Posada and Carlson were the only players ejected, there should be some suspensions coming out of this. Posada certainly will get - and deserve - one. Home plate umpire Jim Joyce's post-game comments placed the blame squarely on Posada. That Jorge made some contact Joyce in going after Carlson will not help him at all, though it appears that Toronto catcher Rod Barajas may be just as much to blame on that count. Also not helping is the fact that third base umpire and crew chief Derryl Cousins - a 31 year veteran and one of the most respected umpires in the game - was injured as part of the melee and had to leave the game (even if a fan was at fault for his injury).
There's plenty of blame to go around on this one. And once Bob Watson rules on it, there will be plenty of discipline to go around too. Thankfully, no one appeared to be injured and Posada will likely lose some cash and get a few more days of rest than were initially planned for him. Let's just hope we get through tonight's game with less excitement.