PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Port, where a fill-in first-base coach for the Tampa Bay Rays may have prevented full-scale hostilities from breaking out between the Rays and Red Sox, with Alfredo Aceves (surprise) in the middle of it.
Or so says Rays second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was hit in the shoulder blades by a pitch from Aceves in the fifth inning, his first time up after hitting a two-run home run off the Red Sox right-hander in his previous at-bat.
Rodriguez is the same guy who beat Aceves and the Red Sox with a two-run home run in the ninth inning of a game last May, so any suspicions he might have harbored about Aceves' intent may have been warranted.
Initially, Aceves was apologetic, according to both the pitcher and Rodriguez.
"I told him, 'My bad, it was a split finger," Aceves said.
Rodriguez, to Tampa Bay beat reporters: "The minute he hit me, he was just saying, 'Oh, it got away from me, it was supposed to be a different pitch,' said it was a split."
That probably should have been the end of it. Except Aceves remained loquacious, continuing a running conversation with Rodriguez even after the Rays infielder reached first base. Aceves' choice of words evidently didn't sit well with Rodriguez, because he suddenly attempted to break for the mound, but got nowhere, because first-base coach Dave Myers, who is normally the team's Triple-A hitting coach, had a firm grip on his jersey.
"I was ready to go," Rodriguez said, "because there was some stuff he said that I'll leave unsaid."
Pressed to reveal what Aceves said, Rodriguez replied: "I'll leave that unsaid."
Rodriguez said if George Hendrick had been at his usual spot -- coaching first -- " he [Hendrick] might have gone after him."
Aceves was asked what he said that angered Rodriguez. "Nothing," he said coyly. "Part of the game."
It was exactly a week ago that Aceves, who was not in the game at the time, was tossed down during a brawl between Mexico and Canada in a World Baseball Classic game, then took some shots to the side of the head in the scrum that ensued.
He pleaded not guilty to any intent to instigate on Saturday.
"He [Rodriguez] was mad because he got hit," Aceves said, "but obviously, like I said, it was not intentional. I understand his last at-bat he got a home run, he probably thought it was intentional. Like I said it was a 3-2 ballgame, we don't want anybody to get on base to tie the game. Plus like I said, it was a split-finger [pitch]."
What struck Rodriguez as odd was that Aceves was conciliatory until he reached base.
"He was very apologetic until I got to first," Rodriguez said. "[Then] it was a little different."
Why? "You got to ask him," he said.
In the midst of all this, Sox manager John Farrell came out of the dugout to remove Aceves, who by that point had thrown 61 pitches, 40 for strikes, in his first exhibition game action since returning from the WBC. With lefties due at the plate for Tampa Bay, Farrell said the plan was to bring in left-hander Andrew Miller regardless of what took place during the Rodriguez at-bat.
The Rays and Sox, of course, have a long history of flare-ups, including last May, in the same series as the Rodriguez home run off Aceves, when rival managers Bobby Valentine and Joe Maddon lobbied verbal shots at each other after Rays DH Luke Scott was hit by a pitch for the third time in as many games by a Sox pitcher.
"I'm kind of curious as to who put out the hit, because I know it wasn't one of their players by the way their players reacted to the entire situation," Maddon said at the time. "It's kind of incompetent behavior. It's the kind of behavior that gets people hurt and gets you hurt on your own side."
Farrell reiterated that Aceves told him it was a splitter that got away, and Maddon told reporters afterward he was satisfied that was the case. The Sox manager also insisted he's no fan of making target practice out of opposing hitters.
"I can tell you this," Farrell said. "We don't intentionally look to hit any hitter in any situation."
But it happens, and as long as retaliation remains part of the game, it will continue. Even in Boston, regardless of Farrell's avowal of the high road.
"It's just another good reason to want to play Boston," Rodriguez said, musing on the history between the teams. "I don't know, we'll see. I guess it just keeps things with a little fire between us, which is cool."
* The game? The Sox won, 9-2, a lineup of reserves and minor league fill-ins banging out 15 hits, including a triple by Jose Iglesias.
* Catcher Blake Swihart, a No., 1 draft pick (26th overall) in 2011, played the last two innings, and whistled a two-run double down the right-field line in the ninth inning off Dane De La Rosa, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound reliever and one-time Yankee prospect who struck out 87 batters in 67 2/3 innings last season in Triple-A. It was the first time Swihart had played in a game for the big league club. "I just tried to go out there to have a little fun and get some experience," said Swihart, who grew up four hours south of fellow New Mexican Cody Ross.
* John Lackey pitched five innings in a minor league game and allowed a run on four hits, walking two and whiffing five.
* Shane Victorino was already on his way back from Miami and the WBC on Saturday morning and is expected to be in the Sox starting lineup Sunday afternoon in JetBlue Park.
"He's anxious to get back and get going, we're anxious to get him back and get him some regular at-bats," manager John Farrell said. "He's in game shape; what he needs are consistent at-bats."
* Farrell said the team has yet to settle on any combination or even a "front-runner" to serve as DH in the absence of David Ortiz at the start of the season.
* And Ryan Westmoreland posted this tweet: " On this day 3 years ago, my life changed for ever. #NeverGiveUp 3.16.10