Ranking the 5 Biggest MLB Playoff Confrontations of All Time
Could we be in store for a confrontation tonight (Oct. 9) in Game 3 of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics?
As you've probably heard by now (or saw at the time), Tigers pitcher Al Alburquerque caused some sore feelings in the ninth inning of Game 2. With runners on first and third in a 4-4 ballgame, Alburquerque got Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes to hit a ground ball back to the pitcher.
Alburquerque then kissed the baseball and looked over at Cespedes before tossing the ball to first base for the out.
Following the game, A's outfielder Josh Reddick told reporters that he didn't like Alburquerque's show of affection.
"I didn't appreciate it," said Reddick, as quoted by the Detroit Free Press' Jeff Seidel. "I thought that was immature. It was not very professional. That's all I got to say about it."
Teammate Jonny Gomes told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that "baseball gods take care of that stuff."
Though Alburquerque may suffer some sort of divine retribution or karmic justice later in the series—personally, I think the baseball gods are laughing over a trumped-up controversy—baseball players have often addressed their grudges and outrage themselves.
That's resulted in some memorable on-field skirmishes and outright brawls. Since we're now in the playoffs, let's look at five of the most infamous confrontations that have taken place during the postseason.
5. Joe Torre vs. Alex Rodriguez, 2006
OK, maybe it's a bit of a stretch to have this on the list. It wasn't an on-field confrontation.
But there could have been a clash in the New York Yankees clubhouse before Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS when Alex Rodriguez looked at the lineup card and saw that manager Joe Torre was batting him eighth in the lineup.
At the time, Rodriguez had two AL MVP awards. He hit 35 home runs with 121 RBI that season. He was being paid $25 million. Those types of players don't bat eighth.
But A-Rod batted 1-for-11 (.091) in the first three games vs. the Detroit Tigers. No extra-base hits, no RBI. So with the Yankees facing elimination, down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, he was batting eighth. Hitters who don't hit very well typically bat eighth. Of course, that applied to Rodriguez in the series.
Making matters worse was that Torre didn't tell Rodriguez about his decision before posting the lineup card.
Whether it was because Rodriguez was further rattled—or offended—by his spot in the lineup, or because he was just in a terrible slump, he went 0-for-3 in Game 4 as the Tigers won the series.
4. Mike Piazza vs. Roger Clemens, 2000
There was already some history between Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza going into Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.
Earlier in the season, during interleague play and the "Subway Series" between the inter-city rivals, Clemens beaned Piazza in the head with a pitch. Piazza thought Clemens threw at him intentionally, as the Mets catcher had seven hits in 12 at-bats vs. the Yankees pitcher. Three of those hits were home runs.
Clemens, as could be expected, said he was "just trying to pitch him inside," as the New York Times' Dave Anderson reported.
So emotions were already tense when Clemens and Piazza faced each other in Game 2. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, as explained by ESPN.com's Rick Weinberg, Clemens threw a fastball in on Piazza's hands. Piazza's bat shattered as he made contact, breaking into three pieces.
The barrel of the bat lands in front of the pitcher's mound. Clemens picks it up and flings it over the first-base line into foul territory. The barrel flies past Piazza while he's running to first base and he understandably thinks that Clemens threw the bat shard at him.
Clemens later claimed that he thought the bat barrel was the baseball and that's why he picked it up. When he realized it was a piece of Piazza's bat, he flung it out of the way. Piazza didn't see it that way, however. Nor did most anyone else watching at the time.
3. Pete Rose vs. Bud Harrelson, 1973
The setting was Game 3 of the 1973 NLCS. The New York Mets held a 9-2 lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth inning.
Pete Rose was on first base with Joe Morgan at bat. Morgan hit a ground ball to first, resulting in a 3-6-3 double play.
But Rose slid hard into second base, taking out infielder Bud Harrelson. Harrelson was able to make the throw to first before falling to the ground, but didn't like Rose's slide. As described by ESPN.com's Jeff Merron, the two tangled up and got into a brawl that lasted for 10 minutes, resulting in both benches clearing.
In a scene reminiscent of Turner Field after Sam Holbrook's infamous infield fly call in this year's NL wild-card playoff between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, Mets fans threw garbage and bottles at Rose when he took his position at first base in the bottom of the inning.
Reds manager Sparky Anderson briefly took his team off the field while Mets players pleaded with the crowd to calm down so play could resume.
To no surprise, Rose didn't apologize for the takeout slide on Harrelson.
"I'm no damn little girl out there," he said to reporters, as quoted by Merron. "I'm supposed to give the fans their money's worth and try to bust up double plays—and shortstops."
2. Bert Campaneris vs. Lerrin LaGrow, 1972
A hitter throwing his bat at a pitcher doesn't happen very often, thankfully. So when that does happen, it's obviously a notable moment.
During the 1972 ALCS between the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers, Bert Campaneris came to bat in the seventh inning, facing reliever Lerrin LaGrow.
As Bill Dow explains in an article for the Detroit Athletic Co., Campaneris had already had an impressive game, getting three hits, stealing second and third base while also scoring three runs.
LaGrow tried to throw inside and ended up hitting Campaneris on the ankle as he tried to jump out of the way. Furious over being hit by a pitch, Campaneris threw his bat at LaGrow. The Tigers reliever was fortunately able to duck out of the way and avoid being hit.
Tigers players and manager Billy Martin rushed out onto the field after the bat was thrown. Home plate umpire Nestor Chylak had held Campaneris back from charging the mound, but now had to protect the A's shortstop from a bunch of angry Tigers players.
Martin was asked after the game if he'd told LaGrow to throw at Campaneris. Martin instead said he ran out onto the field to attack Campaneris after the bat was thrown.
“I don’t know what that idiot was thinking," Martin told reporters, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Ron Kroichick. "He may have to talk to his psychiatrist to find out.
"You can bet your [bleep] I was going out there for him. I’m not going to get after him now, but if there’s ever another fight out there, I’m going out there and find him and beat the [bleep] out of him.”
Campaneris claimed after the game that he wasn't trying to hit LaGrow with the bat. If he had been, he would have thrown the bat sidearm instead of overhand.
American League president Joe Cronin obviously didn't buy that explanation and suspended Campaneris for the rest of the series and the first seven games of the 1973 regular season.
1. Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer, 2003
Perhaps you've heard that the rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is a big one. (If not, keep watching ESPN baseball programming next season. You will be reminded of this.)
But the animosity between the two AL East rivals never seemed more intense than in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS when tempers flared and created an on-field skirmish that resulted in one of the more disturbing visuals we've seen on a baseball field in recent years.
Tensions began when Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez threw a pitch behind the Yankees' Karim Garcia in the fourth inning. Garcia eventually slid in hard to second base, knocking down infielder Todd Walker. That led to both players getting into a shoving match and each team running out of their dugouts.
In the bottom half of the inning, Roger Clemens threw up and in to Manny Ramirez, who then pointed his bat at the pitcher. (Thankfully, he did not throw it as Bert Campaneris did in 1972.) That emptied both benches again, and this time Yankees bench coach ran toward Martinez.
Martinez grabbed the 72-year-old Zimmer and threw him to the ground. Zimmer was examined by the Yankees training staff and taken to a local hospital after the game for examination. Ultimately, however, he only suffered a cut on the bridge of his nose.
But the image of the 31-year-old Martinez throwing a man more than twice his age down was troubling. Even if you argued that Martinez was defending himself, seeing an old man on the ground after being physically manhandled wasn't something anyone felt good about seeing.
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has rarely been uglier.
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