Red Sox, Rays have history of discord

Mike Fine

The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been very good for very long, but they’ve always known when to pick a fight. They’ve done it with many AL teams, but they seem to have a fond spot in their hearts for the Red Sox.

The tensions probably began on Aug. 29, 2000, in a game at Tropicana Field. In just another one of those seasons where the Rays were a miserable shell of a major league team, they were en route to an 8-0 rout by the Sox. Check that, they didn’t even know they were on their way to the rout because a brawl broke out in the first inning when Pedro Martinez hit leadoff batter Gerald Williams.

When order was restored, eight players had been tossed –but not Martinez. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, only to have it broken up by John Flaherty.

After the game, which dropped the Devil Rays to 57-74, Greg Vaughn reportedly challenged Martinez, who finished with a one-hitter, to meet him in the parking lot. Martinez declined.

Over the years, the discord has only heightened. Mostly, the Rays didn’t have quality pitching, but even subpar pitchers get tired of taking any, uh, rubbish day after day, and they can throw an inside pitch as well as a Cy Young winner.

And that’s how these things have usually started, although it’s not like the Sox pitchers were completely innocent. Exactly a month after that initial incident, feelings were still running high. On that date, the Rays actually eliminated the Sox from making the playoffs and closer Roberto Hernandez didn’t suppress his feelings, waving toward the visitors (Red Sox) dugout.

Trot Nixon didn’t take too kindly to that, waving back in a somewhat different manner.

Bad feelings picked up again in ’02. On May 5, Rays pitcher Ryan Rupe, who later would have an exploratory cup of tea with the Sox, hit Nomar Garciaparra and Shea Hillenbrand. An inning later, Nixon came to the plate, took a swing and sent his bat flying in Rupe’s direction.

For that, Nixon would later receive a four-game suspension and pitcher Frank Castillo five games for retaliating against Randy Winn.

Later that year, MLB umpires were told to crack down on the North-South wars. A zero-tolerance policy was put into effect, and when Derek Lowe hit Felix Esaclona with a pitch Sept. 9, he and manager Grady Little were ejected.

One night later, Rays pitcher Lee Gardner and manager Hal McRae were tossed after Lou Merloni was hit.

There were further incidents in 2004, ’05 and ’06. On Sept. 27, 2004, Bronson Arroyo accidentally hit Tino Martinez and Aubrey Huff, so Scott Kazmir accidentally hit Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar, emptying the benches. Kazmir and manager Lou Piniella were ejected in this incident.

Memories are long. The following April in a game at the Trop, five batters were hit, but the wars intensified when Rays pitcher Lance Carter threw at David Ortiz’s head, setting off another brawl. Arroyo then struck back by hitting Chris Singleton. Needless to say, there were several more ejections.

The best part of this one was Curt Schilling’s reaction. “The problem is when you're playing a team with a manager who somehow forgot how the game is played, there's problems,'' Schilling said in a WEEI interview. “Lou's trying to make his team be a bunch of tough guys, and the telling sign is when the players on that team are saying, 'This is why we lose 100 games a year, because this idiot makes us do stuff like this.' They (Rays players) said that on the field.''

“Forget how the game is played? I have forgotten more baseball than this guy knows,'' Piniella said. “On the idiot subject, I'm appalled he would actually say something like that.”

The flare-ups continued a year later in spring training, when Julian Tavarez and Joey Gathright were involved in an innocent play at the plate. But Tavarez threw a punch, and another to-do ensued. Carl Crawford challenged Tavarez to a fight in the parking lot. Like Martinez six years earlier, he declined.

The Rays have a lot more at stake this season, but they and the Sox have continued their fine tradition. On June 4 at Fenway, Coco Crisp and manager Joe Maddon got in a shouting match after Crisp went hard into second baseman Akinori Iwamura, an apparent retaliation for shortstop Jason Bartlett using his knee to block Crisp on an earlier slide.

One day later, pitcher James Shields hit Crisp, who charged the mound and threw a punch. The benches emptied. Hey, what else is new?

The Patriot Ledger