Couple of more thoughts on bench-clearing incident
I’m not going to sit here on my soapbox and assign blame and fault or even take sides on the benches-clearing incident in the Orioles-Red Sox game last night. I’ll let the fans or other reporters do that.
But I’d certainly like to revisit it a little and make a few points about what I saw. Obviously, a lot of people are focused on the couple of pitches that preceded David Ortiz popping out and Kevin Gregg yelling at him, but I think the incident was obviously brewing for a couple of days and a result of mounting frustration from the Orioles' side.
Consider this quote from Orioles manager Buck Showalter: “There’s a lot of things that led up to that that some people probably didn’t notice. But we did.”
What was Showalter talking about?
I can’t say for sure, but I have a few guesses: Perhaps the Orioles were ticked at the way Ortiz admired his three-run blast off rookie left-hander Zach Britton in the first inning. Maybe they didn’t like Darnell McDonald lingering in the batter’s box in the third inning to argue a called third strike in an 8-0 game or Kevin Youkilis fussing about a checked swing call during garbage time of the blowout the night before. Or maybe they thought that former teammate Matt Albers was trying to show them up with his multiple fist pumps after he struck out four of the six hitters he faced in two scoreless innings last night.
It probably was a combination of all those things and a few more that I missed, but the bottom line is with how frustrated and beaten the Orioles are right now, it wasn’t going to take much to get under their skin.
Just a couple of other observations: Gregg’s actions during and after the incident certainly didn’t surprise me. Whether you agree with what he did or not, Gregg has the reputation for being a very good teammate. He’s going to stick up for his teammates, especially his fellow pitchers. And if he thought a Red Sox hitter was either showing one of his younger teammates up or getting far too comfortable in the batter’s box, it doesn’t surprise me that he would take it upon himself to do something about it. I wouldn’t even rule out Gregg trying to send a message -- not to the Red Sox -- but to his teammates. Gregg’s four blown saves have made him a lightning rod for criticism, but his teammates and coaches love him for what he does behind the scenes. Gregg is regularly in front of one of the laptops, studying tape and mechanics with the younger pitchers. He’s very much into the game in the bullpen, constantly talking about situations and pitch sequences. And above all, he doesn’t back down from anybody. If nothing else, he certainly proved that last night.
I’ve seen Matt Wieters frustrated. I’ve seen him annoyed. Now I can officially say that I’ve seen him really angry. Wieters, who is one of the most mild-mannered athletes I’ve ever been around, was one of the most visibly ticked off and aggressive players after the benches cleared. The scrum made it very hard to tell what set him off, though the catcher did do quite a job of pushing Ortiz away from Gregg. Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley really worked hard to calm Wieters down and guide him away from the middle of things, but he had his hands full. At one point, Wieters and Red Sox third base coach Tim Bogar appeared to be having an aggressive exchange.
Some people have asked me why reliever Jim Johnson was ejected and the word was that it was a result of “aggressive actions” during the scrum. Johnson was tying up Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was also ejected, when Boston's closer Jonathan Papelbon started chirping, prompting an exchange with Johnson. Johnson’s involvement was no surprise either. He’s very tight with Gregg, and he’s one of the more outspoken Orioles about protecting teammates and playing the game the right way.
A lot of times, these incidents become a classic case of much ado about nothing and tend to fizzle, but today could test that. Alfredo Simon will start for the Orioles, and not only can he be control-challenged, but he has also been accused of throwing at hitters before. The Toronto Blue Jays made the accusation later year after Simon was tossed for hitting Jose Bautista, and the New York Yankees also complained last spring that Simon was going up and in entirely too much. Red Sox starter John Lackey can also be quite temperamental, and he has a reputation for protecting his teammates.