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."
It was an angry Orioles clubhouse as they packed for St. Petersburg, Fla., but they felt no shame for their actions. Hargrove said he would be surprised if some suspensions weren't handed down, but he couldn't be sure.
"I think our guys handled it well," Hargrove said. "They did what they felt they had to do and nothing more. I've seen a lot worse incidents on the field than that."
Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site:Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Travis Driskill (6-4, 4.79) vs. Devil Rays' Paul Wilson (2-7, 4.20)
A sampling of other baseball fights:
1932: Umpire George Moriarty fought with White Sox players under the stands after the Indians won a doubleheader. Chicago claimed the umpire deliberately made wrong calls. Moriarty broke his fist knocking down Milt Gaston, but he was pounded by manager Lew Fonseca and catchers Charlie Berry and Frank Grube.
1965: After Giants pitcher Juan Marichal was brushed back by a pitch while hitting against the Dodgers, the return throw from catcher John Roseboro whizzed by his ear. Marichal turned and clubbed Roseboro on the head with his bat.
1973: The Reds' Pete Rose slid hard into Bud Harrelson at second base during the 1973 National League Championship Series and flipped him, leading to a brawl. Mets fans threw garbage and bottles onto the field, and a forfeit was averted after a contingent of Mets, led by Willie Mays and Tom Seaver, pleaded to the crowd for restraint.
1976: After the Yankees' Lou Piniella crashed into Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk at the plate, the two started to fight. In an ensuing battle, New York's Graig Nettles body-slammed Boston pitcher Bill Lee, separating his shoulder.
1981: The Pirates' Pascual Perez hit Dodgers batters Bill Russell and Dusty Baker with pitches, leading Dodgers outfielder Reggie Smith, who was sitting on the bench, to challenge Perez to fight him. Perez came off the mound and disappeared with Smith into the runway behind home plate, followed closely by the rest of both teams, the umpires and photographers.
1984: The Padres and Braves had two bench-clearing brawls. After Pascual Perez hit Alan Wiggins with the first pitch of the game, Padres pitchers threw at Perez in his four trips to bat. The second brawl involved several fans and there were 19 ejections total.
1993: After the Mariners' Chris Bosio threw pitches behind the knees of Mark McLemore in the fifth inning and Harold Reynolds in the sixth inning, the Orioles' Mike Mussina hit Bill Haselman on the shoulder with a fastball in the seventh, leading to a 20-minute brawl and eight ejections. The Orioles' Cal Ripken, trapped under a pile of bodies, twisted his right knee when his spikes caught in the infield grass, but his consecutive-games streak, then at 1,790, continued.
1998: After Bernie Williams gave the Yankees a 7-5 lead with a three-run homer in the eighth inning, the Orioles' Armando Benitez hit Tino Martinez in the upper back with the next pitch, and both benches cleared. Benitez dropped his glove and beckoned Darryl Strawberry to fight. A brawl ensued and moved into the third base dugout.