Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Gary Shelton: For Rays and Red Sox, tempers are always ready to flare

At this point, you can talk about the glorified shoving that is a baseball brawl. Frankly, a weekend sale at Dillard's brings more contact.

If you wish, you can join in the who's-the-weenie conversations that are going on in the Internet world today between Rays fans and Red Sox fans. It's always fun to watch people try to type tough, isn't it?

Or, if it comes to it, you can once again write down the unwritten rules of baseball, rules that have been written a thousand times since Abner Doubleday invented the double play.

Ah, but when you get right down to it, Sunday's Tampa Bay-Boston skirmish wasn't really about any of those things. Not really.

It wasn't about the fact that the Rays were ahead by five runs.

It was about the fact that the Red Sox were about to drop their 10th straight game.

If you want a number that's worth fighting about, that's the one.

And so when Yunel Escobar took third base against Boston in the bottom of the seventh inning Sunday afternoon, he wasn't exactly trespassing on baseball's holy ground. He just took a base that Boston didn't seem very intent on protecting. That's all.

What was he supposed to do with an unguarded base in front of him? Wait at second base until the manager shows up to buy Sno-Cones?

A five-run lead? Heck, one of these teams hadn't blown a five-run lead since, well, Saturday. Besides, if you have watched Rays closer Grant Balfour pitch this year, you know that he is capable of somehow blowing a five-run lead in about four batters. No one turns out the light with a five-run lead. No one should expect the other team to, either.

Besides, as Joe Maddon put it — the ultimate gotcha — the Red Sox did the same thing in last year's playoffs, stealing with an 8-2 lead.

Forgive me, because my math is kind of shaky, but was five on Sunday more than six in October?

So, no, don't blame this on the score or the steal or the unwritten rules. If anything, this was the act of a team that has been worn down by the losing. Hey, no one has to tell the Rays about that. This was frustration. This was desperation. And, yeah, this was our old friend Jonny Gomes, who is hard-wired to shove every now and then. It's what he does.

Also, it was about the Rays and the Red Sox, who seem to get around to not liking each other fairly regularly.

The good news? They play again this weekend.

Grrr.

As baseball plays go, let's face it. This one was kind of innocuous. It wasn't a hard slide or retaliation for a hit batter or a some guy striking a home run pose. Frankly, I'm a little surprised the Red Sox bench even noticed the steal, because the guys in the infield seemed to be watching something else.

Now, if you want to quibble with the Rays' part of it, there is this: Yes, Escobar had rabbit ears. He could have ignored the chirping. If you're fair, you have to admit that by gesturing into the dugout, he helped to escalate this into a situation.

But the play? It's completely defensible. Of course it is. And everyone who has ever watched a baseball game — or talked about one — should know it.

I don't know about you, but whenever someone brings up baseball's unwritten rules, I start to chuckle. I can't help it. That's funnier stuff than the Who's On First routine.

Does anyone remember back in 2001, when the Diamondbacks protested that San Diego's Ben Davis would dare bunt to break up a no-hitter by Curt Schilling with five outs to go? The thing is, that brought the tying run to the plate. The Padres had a chance to win the game, and they weren't supposed to do it because of an unwritten rule.

Now, the Rays are supposed to stop taking extra bases because, well, it's inconvenient for the Red Sox? Put it this way: If the home team is supposed to stop running, is the visiting team supposed to stop trying to hit home runs? Of course not. I mean, isn't it a little embarrassing when a team has to complain about the other team not putting on the brakes?

The point is that these teams seem to annoy each other. The Rays play the Orioles a lot, too, but the same sort of silliness doesn't happen nearly as often. Or against the Blue Jays. Or even the Yankees.

But the Red Sox?

It's Pedro Martinez hitting Gerald Williams in 2000. It's Roberto Hernandez waving goodbye to the Red Sox season after saving a game that eliminated Boston in 2000. It's James Shields hitting Coco Crisp in 2008. It's John Lackey hitting Matt Joyce last year.

And now we wait for the next chapter.

Should Escobar be prepared to play dodgeball when he comes to the plate this weekend?

Should David Ross, who says he wasn't chirping even though TV cameras showed him doing so, be on his toes?

And, when push comes to shove, should anyone steal a base with a five-run lead?

Comments
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