On Friday night, Fenway Park turned into the Wild West. Scores were settled, barbs were thrown and threats of future retaliation echoed through the night.
In the David Price vs. David Ortiz drama—stemming from Ortiz's reaction to a home run off Price in the 2013 ALDS—both players are at fault for letting emotions overtake the game.
When Price plunked Ortiz last night, it was a clear directive toward last season's postseason blast at Fenway Park, regardless of Price's justification after the game, per Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
"I've got to establish my fastball in," Price said. "I've got six lefties in that lineup. It's my favorite side of the plate to go to."
Despite an offseason phone call between the two players to bury the hatchet and move forward, the first Ortiz vs. Price at-bat of 2014 ended in a painful jog down to first base for Boston's designated hitter and a short night for Red Sox manager John Farrell.
The intent was clear and direct, bringing fans back to Price's emotional quote after Ortiz launched an eighth-inning home run in Game 2 of last October's ALCS, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.
“He knows how I’ve pitched him the last year and a half, probably two years. He steps in the bucket and he hits a homer, and he stares at it to see if it’s fair or foul,” Price said. “I’m sure that’s what he’d say. But as soon as he hit it and I saw it, I knew it was fair. Run.”
Ortiz didn't run that night, allowing Price the freedom to retaliate eight months later. The reaction of Tampa's dugout last evening conveyed a feeling of purpose, something the umpire crew clearly agreed with when issuing warnings.
David Price getting high fives after returning to Rays dugout after drilling Ortiz.— David Laurila (@DavidLaurilaQA) May 30, 2014
At that point, the story could have ended. In Boston, Price would have been known as a sore loser and enforcer of old, archaic unwritten rules surrounding batter-pitcher etiquette.
Although every team is peeved when on the receiving end of the slow, dramatic home run gaze and trot, almost every 25-man roster in baseball has a player or two that does the exact same thing.
Price let emotion and personal vendetta start a feud, but Ortiz's actions later took the fracas to a ridiculous level.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, a Price fastball sailed up and in on left-handed hitter Mike Carp, marking the second Red Sox batter plunked in the game. Unlike the Ortiz moment from earlier, there was no motive or logical reason for Price to hit Carp in that situation.
Tampa entered the game on a three-game losing streak and risked falling behind the lowly Houston Astros for the American League's worst record if a win didn't commence on Friday in Boston. With a runner already on second base and Tampa clinging to a slim one-run margin, the idea of Price willingly putting the go-ahead run on base is absurd.
Yet, due to the vitriol from the Ortiz exchange earlier, the Red Sox took it as a pitch meant with more intent and hatred.
The benches clearing incident that followed—spearheaded by Ortiz's show of emotion on the field—made the situation bigger than it had to be.
After initially issuing a warning when Price hit Ortiz, the umpires correctly didn't deem intent on the pitch to Carp. Thousands of Red Sox fans may disagree, but two separate situations suddenly became one thanks to Ortiz and press conference words that will likely live in Fenway infamy, per CSN New England.
"You can’t be acting like a little girl out there," Ortiz said. "You’re not going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. If you’re going act like a little [expletive] when you give it up, bounce back and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you."
As if that wasn't enough, Ortiz landed one last barb to the assembled media:
With that, a baseball situation became something more. It's uncomfortable when athletes use the term "war" to describe anything on a diamond, field, court or rink because of the real-world that exists outside of the multi-billion dollar bubble of professional sports.
Furthermore, the idea that Ortiz wants to continue this nonsense is disconcerting and embarrassing for the game.
Price didn't have to hit Ortiz, but Ortiz didn't have to continue the dialogue and banter in the aftermath of a meaningful back-and-forth AL East tilt.
Who is to blame for the Ortiz-Price incident?
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria summed up the night best, giving credence to Ortiz's emotion but putting it in the perspective of baseball wins and losses, not war, per Smith's Tampa Bay Times report.
"I'm right there with Papi in saying, "It's game on, whenever we go out there," Longoria said. "We're all fierce competitors. But at the end of the day it doesn't come down to who's more macho or who has more guts when it comes to going out and clearing the benches. We're out there fighting to get out of the cellar."
On Friday night, both Price and Ortiz lost track of what was most important, driving an inane personal vendetta to the breaking point and altering the course of an important game along the way.
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