Duncan unaffected by Rays' reaction
First baseman defends slide despite opposition's disapproval
TAMPA, Fla. -- Shelley Duncan gnashed his black bat between two fists, alternating between a futile effort to create sawdust and pounding it into the foam padding of his locker chair. So began the day after.
Fewer than 24 hours after a spikes-high slide into Akinori Iwamura set off a bench-clearing incident with the Rays in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Duncan was looking for anything to extinguish the firestorm he helped spark.
"Maybe Billy Crystal will take some of the heat off of me," Duncan said, cracking a sliver of a smile.
Duncan said that he watched replays of the slide -- which the Rays repeatedly termed a "dirty play" -- on "SportsCenter" and couldn't understand why the Tampa Bay players were as upset as they were.
While neither Duncan nor Yankees manager Joe Girardi would disclose specifics of a discussion they had late Wednesday, Duncan said he would not be bothered by characterizations from Rays manager Joe Maddon that his actions were "contemptible" and "borderline criminal," among other terms.
"The words that come from another team don't affect me," Duncan said. "It doesn't bother me. They can say whatever they want to say. It won't change how I play the game or how I look at them."
Tampa Bay wasn't budging. Speaking in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Rays played the Red Sox, Maddon was insistent that his club had nothing to apologize for and no reason to change its thinking.
"I will not back down for a minute," Maddon said. "I know we are right in this regard, so it's up to [the Yankees] to spin it the way they would like to spin it. That is entirely up to them.
"But I know what happened. Everybody who saw it knows what happened. It's indisputable what happened. So bring on the spin doctors."
Rays right fielder Jonny Gomes -- who speared Duncan from behind after the hard slide, setting off the melee -- was the only non-Yankee tossed of the five persons ejected. Gomes said in Fort Myers that he expected to be suspended for his actions, though Maddon said Gomes should not be.
Regardless, Gomes said that Duncan should receive a harsher penalty.
"What he did was premeditated, a week in advance ... saying he was going to do it," Gomes said. "What would happen to a pitcher if he said, 'I'm going to hit some guy in the head,' and [he] hits a guy in the head?"
Duncan again rejected that claim, saying, "I really did not say anything provocative before the game [Wednesday]. What I said was I was going to play the game hard. That's all I said."
Duncan made the comments in question on Sunday, one day after Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli suffered a broken right wrist in a home-plate collision with Rays infielder Elliot Johnson.
According to an account by The Associated Press, Duncan said: "What it does is it opens another chapter of intensity in the Spring Training ballgames. They showed what is acceptable to them and how they're going to play the game, so we're going to go out there to match their intensity -- or even exceed it.
"There's going to be no malicious evil intent in terms of carryover, but it just adds a different type of fire to your gut when you play that team because you understand how they're playing the game and what their mind-set is."
Duncan said on Thursday that he would not change his style of play as a result of the incident with the Rays.
"I'll continue to play the game as hard as I can all the time," Duncan said. "What matters to me the most is the respect of my coaching staff and my teammates."
It appears as though Duncan continues to have that, though that could change in at least one case if Girardi sees the slide and does not approve of his players' actions. Girardi said he had not seen a replay by the end of Thursday's game, having fallen asleep Wednesday night while watching "American Idol."
After loudly criticizing Johnson for his jarring hit on catcher Cervelli on Saturday, Girardi said that he was not abiding by a double standard.
"I don't like dirty baseball," Girardi said. "I don't want to see players get hurt, whether it's Spring Training or the season. I would be mad at one of my players if he intentionally tried to hurt someone, and I would let him know."
Duncan has been celebrated in New York for his high-energy style of play, having made his big league arrival with impact last July by homering three times in his first four games.
But he has also made questionable decisions; Duncan has aggressively taken out middle infielders on slides, most notably in Toronto last August after Alex Rodriguez's "Ha!" play. In Boston, Duncan finished signing an autograph for a young fan by adding a vulgar term about the Red Sox.
Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi has been exposed to Duncan's boisterous personality for years. As a youngster, Duncan would roam the Oakland A's clubhouses following his father, longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Giambi was a late scratch from the Yankees' travel roster to St. Petersburg on Wednesday, but when he heard there was an incident, Giambi said he was not surprised to hear that Duncan had been involved.
"The one guy who started it doesn't surprise me -- Baby Huey," Giambi said, laughing. "That's my boy right there. Baby Huey -- he has no idea. He's been like that since he's been a kid."
Girardi said that he would continue to back his player upon further review.
"Shelley told me he was trying to break up the play, [that] he was trying to go after his glove," Girardi said. "I take Shelley for his word.
"There's always those guys that you'll love them if they're on your team. You don't necessarily like them if they're on the other team. You're always going to play against guys like that. I don't know if Shelley is like that, but I've got to tell you, we love him on our team."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.