Yanks, Jays empty benches twice
Bad blood boils over after A-Rod plunked in leg by Towers
TORONTO -- It's been more than two months since the shout heard 'round the Rogers Centre made national headlines, adding another layer of controversy to the career of Alex Rodriguez. Still, the issue is still fresh on the minds of the Blue Jays and Yankees.
The much-debated shout from the Yankees' third baseman was thrust back into the spotlight on Tuesday night, when Rodriguez erupted after being struck on the leg by a pitch from Toronto's Josh Towers. The inside offering, which Towers claims wasn't intentional, provoked plenty of arguments on the field during two bench-clearing incidents in the third inning.
Rodriguez yelled at Towers, the pitcher then exchanged heated words with New York first-base coach Tony Pena and, at one point, Toronto veteran Matt Stairs had to be restrained by a handful of Yankees. New York's Roger Clemens put the finishing touch on the confrontation in the seventh inning, when the 45-year-old starter drilled Alex Rios in the back with a pitch and was promptly ejected from the 9-2 Yankees victory.
"We've got some bad blood, or whatever you want to call it, and it's been hyped quite a bit," Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said. "[Towers' pitch] looked bad. It wasn't intentional, but it looked bad, and I understand, 1,000 percent, their reaction to it. Fortunately for everyone, it didn't escalate into anything worse and no one was hurt."
Tuesday's events date back to May 30, when Rodriguez distracted Blue Jays infielders during a crucial pop up in the ninth inning of a contest at Rogers Centre. Rodriguez shouted something as he ran between former Toronto infielder Howie Clark and shortstop John McDonald on a fly ball off the bat of Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.
Clark, who was playing third base, believed McDonald was calling him off on the play, so he ran out from under the ball. The baseball dropped to the turf, resulting in a single that helped lead to four New York runs in a 10-5 loss for the Jays. There were varying opinions on the play, and Toronto didn't issue any retaliation in its next meeting with New York in the series from July 16-19 in the Bronx.
"I really don't want to talk about it, because I don't know what to say," New York manager Joe Torre said. "If it goes back to the first time we were here, they came in and played four games against us at home and there was no evidence of it. That's the curious part for me."
On Monday afternoon, in the opener of the current three-game series between the clubs in Toronto, Blue Jays rookie Jesse Litsch's first pitch to Rodriguez in the second inning sailed behind the third baseman's legs. After the game, Litsch said he was simply trying to pitch inside and misfired with a two-seam fastball.
"Yesterday they threw behind him, and let that slide," Torre said. "Then, all of a sudden, they hit him today. So, I guess yesterday wasn't a mistake."
Similar to Litsch, Towers threw an inside offering to Rodriguez on Tuesday night, but the pitch hit the third baseman on the left leg. Towers also claimed to merely be pitching inside, but Rodriguez immediately took exception with the play. A-Rod began walking toward the mound, shouting at Towers, while the pitcher motioned for the third baseman to take his base.
"It just got away a little bit," Towers said. "I didn't expect much more than [words from Rodriguez] after I hit him. I was caught off guard a little bit. The ball got away and then he came after me and I just asked him to go to first base. He showed no intention of actually coming out [to the mound]."
Rodriguez sported a slight limp as he approached reporters after the game.
"It got me pretty good," Rodriguez said. "We'll see how I wake up in the morning. It just hit me in the calf -- straight up."
Towers' attempt to defuse the situation didn't stop the Yankees and Blue Jays players and coaches from spilling onto the field. A crowd of players formed between the mound and home plate, where the umpires attempted to gain control of the minor melee. While the Blue Jays and Yankees exchanged words, both clubs' pitchers began to jog in from the bullpens located beyond the outfield wall.
"We have to try and protect Alex," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "He's our star player. He's the reason we are where we are right now. It was good to see the guys battling for each other and they have to do the same thing."
Zaun echoed Damon's final sentiment.
"We were out there," Zaun said, "and they were out there doing what we were supposed to do, which is to protect our players and try to see if cooler heads will prevail. You never like to see it escalate into blows being thrown."
No punches were thrown, but the players and coaches still had plenty of words for each other.
As the pack of players began to break up around home plate, Rodriguez headed down the first-base line with 39-year-old Blue Jays veteran Matt Stairs close behind. Stairs, while being held back by a handful of New York players, continued to yell at Rodriguez before returning to Toronto's dugout.
The situation appeared to be nearing an end until Rodriguez left first base and began walking toward Towers again. That prompted both benches and bullpens to empty again -- this time, with players sprinting toward the first-base side of the mound.
Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay blocked Rodriguez's path to Towers, and the Yankees third baseman retreated to first when he learned that the pitcher wasn't talking to him. Towers was barking at Pena, who served as the Royals manager from 2002-05.
"I heard somebody chirping when I was talking to Lyle," Towers said. "I asked who it was, and Tony Pena is running his mouth. I was like, 'What is this guy running his mouth for?' He's a quitter. He was managing a team and he quit in the middle of a season, because he couldn't hack it. Hey, he's going to run his mouth at me? It had nothing to do with Alex."
When asked about Towers' comments after the game, Pena had little response.
"I don't care," said a disgusted Pena. "I have no comment. Just let him talk."
The entire incident, in which no one was ejected, delayed the game for around 15 minutes, and died down until Alex Rios stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh inning. That's when Clemens sent a 1-0 pitch off the back of Toronto's right fielder.
That ended the night for Clemens, who was ejected, along with Torre, by home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Before heading to the visitors' clubhouse, Clemens had a brief discussion on the field with Hernandez.
"I've been in those situations before," said Clemens, who added that he hoped to avoid a suspension. "They're never good, but I had something to get off my chest and I did. I have a lot of respect for those guys, the men in blue."
Zaun said he wasn't surprised when Clemens hit Rios.
"He's a warrior," the catcher said. "He's not going to stand by and let guys take shots at his players. I certainly understand the way they felt about that situation and I would expect nothing less from him. He's going to protect his players."
Players on both teams said they hoped Tuesday's altercation, and the past incidents, can be put to rest.
"If there's any bad blood, hopefully it's behind us," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "Things happen sometimes, but they're pretty much over with."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.