O's, Red Sox clear benches, but not the air

15-minute brawl follows drillings in 12-3 Orioles loss

Lowe says he `initiated' melee

Ejected: O's Matthews, W. Roberts, Boston coach

July 29, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The Fenway Feud started and ended yesterday as a war of words.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe drilled Orioles outfielder Gary Matthews with a fourth-inning fastball in apparent retaliation for Scott Erickson hitting Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez. Even the Orioles considered that business as usual.

But after Matthews tried stealing second base on a subsequent foul ball, Lowe said something to Matthews on his way back to first. They took a few steps toward each other, and a 15-minute benches-clearing brawl erupted.

Matthews got ejected, Lowe did not, and shortly after Boston polished off its 12-3 victory at Fenway Park, Lowe said, "I actually initiated the whole thing."

Lowe's admission echoed the sentiments in the Orioles' clubhouse after their first major brawl since the infamous dugout rumble at Yankee Stadium on May 19, 1998. That one led to five suspensions, including an eight-game penalty for then-Orioles reliever Armando Benitez.

This one could also lead to penalties from the commissioner's office. The umpires ejected Matthews, Orioles reliever Willis Roberts and Red Sox pitching coach Tony Cloninger. The discrepancy in the ejections - two Baltimore players, one Boston coach - left the Orioles scratching their heads.

"The umpires talked it over, and that's what they decided," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "I didn't agree with it, and I told them I didn't agree with it."

Orioles first base coach Rick Dempsey, who tried restraining Matthews before the benches cleared, said, "Lowe was more of an instigator than anybody out there, and he got off scot-free."

Lowe put it this way: "I probably, maybe said something that I probably shouldn't have said, but it was just a crazy situation. I think that if it was the first time Manny got hit or something, then maybe, but you got to protect everybody, but especially your superstar guys."

Once the melee started, it broke out into what looked like three waves.

With Matthews being restrained, both teams began filtering onto the field. It could have ended in a stare-down, as many of these things do, but a commotion broke out near the mound between Orioles shortstop Melvin Mora and Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

Afterward, Varitek declined to talk about the brawl.

"I don't know what happened," Mora said. "Everything was too quick."

Relievers began pouring in from the bullpen. Roberts got tangled with Red Sox infielder Carlos Baerga behind second base. Red Sox reliever Willie Banks said he saw Roberts hit someone from behind.

"You've got to be a coward anytime you hit somebody from behind," Banks said. "I wish I could say some other words, but coward is the best word I could use right now."

Roberts, who lost his jersey in the fracas, said he was the one who was hit from behind. He wound up backpedaling into short left field with what looked to be five Red Sox players coming after him. Roberts was gesturing toward them, and he was eventually ejected for taunting.

Cloninger was ejected after putting Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce in a headlock and chokehold. At the age of 61, Cloninger packs some punch with his 6-foot, 260-pound frame. Fordyce came away with a bloody nose.

Otherwise, there were no apparent injuries.

The Red Sox inflicted their biggest pain on the scoreboard, sending the Orioles to their fifth loss in six games. Lowe (14-5) pitched six shutout innings, lowering his American League-best ERA to 2.23.

Erickson (4-10) allowed seven runs in three innings, making his first start since he was arrested and quickly released early Monday morning in a domestic dispute with his live-in girlfriend.

When Erickson hit Ramirez with a fastball in the left shoulder, the Red Sox were leading 2-0. By the end of the inning, it was 7-0.

Erickson said he was not throwing at Ramirez intentionally.

"There was no problem until [Lowe] started chirping because [Matthews] tried to steal a base," Erickson said. "I'm surprised [Lowe] got to stay in the game because he's the one who instigated it."

Lowe wasted no time seeking revenge for Ramirez. He hit Matthews in the rear end with the first pitch of the fourth inning. Matthews took a couple steps toward Lowe, and then went to first base as plate umpire Randy Marsh issued warnings to both benches.

"I don't like getting hit," Matthews said, "But I understand how this game works. He has to try to protect his players, and that's fine."

Still, Matthews' initial reaction angered the Red Sox.

"All he had to do is go to first base and take it like a man," Banks said. "Then none of this would have happened."

Matthews tried stealing second on Lowe's second pitch to Tony Batista, but Batista fouled it off. On his way back to first, Matthews saw Lowe say something that he didn't hear. Matthews said his reaction was to ask Lowe, "What did you say?"

"Supposedly, I was ejected because I walked toward him," Matthews said. "But if you look at the videotape, he stepped off the mound and had some words with me first, so in my opinion, he's got to be ejected also."

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