CINCINNATI (AP) -- Add another ugly chapter to the "Nasty Boys" lore, one involving -- who else? -- quick-tempered Rob Dibble.
Dibble's 95 mph fastball behind Eric Yelding's back Thursday night touched off a bench-clearing brawl between the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros, and brought threats of further hostilities between teams that spent 1990 rumbling.
"That's that Nasty Boys stuff, supposedly," Houston's Ken Caminiti said. "They think they can do anything they want. I don't think this will be the end of this."
It's certainly a sign that there's no end in sight to the pitcher-batter confrontations that characterized the 1990 season.
On Wednesday night in San Diego, the San Francisco Giants' Kevin Mitchell hit a homer off Bruce Hurst, then was hit by a pitch from the left-hander in his next at-bat. Mitchell was ejected after charging the mound.
The nastiness in Cincinnati occurred after Dibble gave up an RBI single to a first-time batter in Houston's 4-1 win.
Dibble relieved in the ninth with Houston ahead, 3-1, and the Reds in danger of falling out of first place in the National League West for the first time since 1989.
Karl Rhodes, a Cincinnati native who went to Pete Rose's high school, singled off Dibble and stole a base. With two out, reliever Curt Schilling came to the plate for his first major-league at-bat.
"When I was on deck, I was terrified," Schilling said. "I didn't want to bat and the thought of hitting this guy was overwhelming."
The thought of giving up a hit to Schilling evidently was overwhelming to Dibble. Schilling, a former Baltimore Oriole, slapped a single just past second baseman Bill Doran to score Rhodes and anger Dibble.
Yelding, the next batter, should have seen it coming. Moments later, he did -- right at his back.
Dibble's first pitch flew about a foot behind Yelding and slammed off the padding behind home plate. Umpire Jim Quick evidently considered it a beanball and immediately raised his hand to eject Dibble.
Yelding sprinted to the mound, took off his batting helmet and threw it at Dibble's left shoulder. They went down in a tangle, and order was restored in a minute. Yelding was ejected for charging the mound.
It was reminiscent of 1989, when Dibble became so angry at giving up an RBI single that he flung a bat halfway up the foul screen. That brought an ejection and one of his three suspensions that year.
He avoided suspension last season, but his latest performance has Astros manager Art Howe calling for another one.
"He obviously threw at Yelding's head," Howe said. "He [Dibble] must be so good that when he gives up a run, he can knock somebody down.
"They should suspend the guy. He's head-hunting. It's not safe for anybody out there. He has too much control to be throwing like that, and everybody knows it. It's a weak act, period."
Dibble saw nothing wrong with his actions, and he objected to Howe's comments after reading them in a newspaper yesterday. He pointed out that teammate Eric Davis had to duck an inside pitch Thursday from Astros starter Pete Harnisch. The former Oriole walked eight in five innings.
"I've pitched like that my entire career," Dibble said. "Nobody says anything when they throw one over Eric's head. I do it and Howe says I should be suspended -- and I probably will be, knowing the way [NL President] Bill White likes me.
"I didn't hit him. He hit me -- with his helmet. Howe says I have such good control. If I did, I would have hit him. . . . If I hit a guy in the head and he dies, is that a good, Christian thing to do?"
Reds manager Lou Piniella spoke with Dibble yesterday afternoon.
"Dibble has loads of talent," Piniella said. "There's nothing wrong with pitching inside, or brushing a guy back. But you don't need to go that far with it, for a couple of reasons.
"One, somebody can get hurt, and second, those guys get up more when they face you and they want to beat you more. It makes it tougher."
The teams traded knockdown pitches and fought several times last year, with Houston's Glenn Davis, now with the Baltimore Orioles, getting hit three times in a game. But the Astros have drastically changed their roster, so lingering hostilities don't seem to figure into the latest clash.
"There have been so many changes," said Doran, a former Astro.
Yelding's explanation: Dibble just got upset that a pitcher got a hit off him.
"There's no doubt he threw at me. I felt I had to defend myself," he said.
Fellow "Nasty Boy" Norm Charlton, who took the loss Thursday, didn't want to suggest a motive for Dibble's pitch. However, he said there's no reason for a pitcher to throw at a hitter just to avenge an RBI single by the opposing pitcher.
"You give up a guy's first hit," Charlton said, "I don't think that's cause to hit the next guy."