Bad feelings, responsibility start at the top

Baseball Playoffs

October 13, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

BOSTON - Everyone reported back from the hospital and police station just in time for the rainout of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Don Zimmer was sore but treated and released after his prime-time fall from grace - or rather, his push and rollover into the Fenway grass.

And that Fenway grounds crew worker who doubled-pumped his fist for the fans after the Yankees grounded into a double play, only to incite Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson to riot in the bullpen?

Police are still investigating the case that might result in charges against Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia.

Phew.

Baseball's vice president of on-field operations, Bob Watson, issued fines against Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Garcia and Zimmer.

Commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement saying: "I am very disappointed in the behavior of some of the participants in last night's game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox."

The Red Sox had knuckleballer Tim Wakefield videotape a public service announcement for Fenway fans.

"It explains the players' perspective in hopes that the fans join the players in appreciating the excitement of the series," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said, "but let's put the focus back on the field and let's make sure we treat the visiting team with respect, [along with] the guests in our city who may root for the visiting team, make sure we enjoy these extraordinary, exciting times."

Only one problem. It wasn't the fans who needed a public service announcement.

Peeling away the layers of this ancient sports rivalry has done little except expose unsightly rot, mold and unstable infrastructure.

Who said this Red Sox-Yankees matchup was a road we wanted to go down?

Now we know why Orioles fans scalp their tickets and clear out of Camden Yards whenever the Red Sox and Yankees come to town. Such toxicity!

It was not a night for baseball yesterday, even before rain-soaked Fenway yielded umpires no choice but to postpone Game 4 until today. It was, for sure, a night for a peacemaker.

At least Zimmer had enough courage to apologize - although not specifically to Martinez.

His eyes brimming with tears, his lips trembling, the old bulldog of a man sat at the microphones, on his own accord, with one statement to make.

"I'm embarrassed of what happened [Saturday]. I'm embarrassed for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the fans, the umpires and my family. That's all I have to say," Zimmer said, his voice quavering so much, Yankees manager Joe Torre had to rub his back.

"I'm sorry," Zimmer said before quickly rising and scurrying out of sight.

There is crying in baseball. There is regret, remorse, embarrassment - at least from the Yankees' bench coach.

The Red Sox?

In the clubhouse, Martinez could only manage to say he was sorry that Zimmer had to apologize - hardly the kind of olive branch or mea culpa a melee such as the one Martinez ignited warrants.

This is Martinez's schtick. It's always someone else's fault, but what excuse did the three Red Sox amigos - Lucchino, owner John Henry and chairman Thomas Werner - have for protecting their diva and defying the Yankees to besmirch their good image?

"I would say that after the rush of [Game 3] ... perhaps the full scope of the stories did not emerge ... [and] some characterizations may mislead the public," Lucchino said.

Obviously, the Red Sox didn't like Yankees president Randy Levine calling the Red Sox "lawless."

The Red Sox and Yankees are in desperate need of couples therapy. If we could only get them in the same room together, maybe all this hatred and animosity - between ownership - would dissolve into something slightly less noxious.

"Have you spoken with George Steinbrenner?" someone asked Lucchino last night as the Red Sox set out to do damage control.

"Who?" Lucchino asked.

"Steinbrenner."

"You can bet I haven't," Lucchino said.

In a stunning reversal of all things sane - and there is little sanity surrounding this testosterone- and venom-infused American League Championship Series - the Red Sox have begun to make the Yankees look almost sympathetic.

How do the Red Sox address the issue of Martinez's throwing at the Yankees, which he has now done enough to warrant suspicion that it is more than the brushback, stand-'em-up kind of inside-corner-of-the-plate-claiming tactics that great pitchers are certainly entitled to use.

"There are 35,000 people at the game, and there are probably 35,000 different opinions about exactly what he was doing or not doing or how prudent it was or how imprudent it was," Lucchino said.

To which any rational person would laugh, because it was absolutely clear Martinez was throwing at Garcia, igniting the maelstrom.

"It was a message. Pitching inside is part of the game, and it went both ways last night," Lucchino said.

To which any rational person would laugh, because Roger Clemens did not throw at Ramirez. That pitch was high, but nowhere near Ramirez, who probably could not see the ball anyway because he probably had his eyes closed the minute he stepped in the box.

"A lot of what happened on the field last night happened numerous times during this season in this sport and other sports. It's not to be condoned but it's not to be blown out of proportion, either," Lucchino said.

Guess that means when the Red Sox "Cowboy Up," anything goes.

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