SYDNEY -- They wouldn’t rumble Down Under, would they?
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks were chosen to be the 2014 ambassadors of Major League Baseball. They’re in Australia’s largest city preparing for their Opening Series games Saturday and Sunday. This is just the sixth time MLB has opened its season abroad and Australia is viewed as ripe territory to grow the game globally.
But there’s this nagging little worry out there, a potential embarrassment for the league: What if the teams fight?
“I think it’d be really bad for baseball if something were to spill over from last year, especially out here,” Arizona reliever J.J. Putz told reporters. “This country has welcomed everybody with open arms.”
It seems like a long shot, of course, for good reason. Both managers have spoken in conciliatory terms. Both teams say the bad blood of 2013 is in the past, that their conflicting World Series aspirations are the only reason for animosity. They’ve turned the page, they say.
But teams don’t typically spill their true feelings about one another through the media and, according to sources, there is some thought among the Dodgers that the Diamondbacks might, at some point, seek retribution for the little dip the Dodgers took in their pool when they clinched the NL West last September.
“It’s over until something happens, you know what I mean?,” Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell said. “You don’t anticipate anything, but hey, there’s obviously ... I don’t know how they feel. I don’t know what’s going on in their team, but over here we’re trying to win ballgames. If something happens, we’re definitely going to defend ourselves.”
The culmination of the teams’ dislike for each other was the ugly brawl at Dodger Stadium last June 11, just hours after Major League Baseball had announced the teams would open the 2014 season in Australia. The brawl erupted amid a beanball war sparked when Ian Kennedy grazed Yasiel Puig's nose with a 92-mph fastball. The brawl resulted in suspensions for eight players. Miguel Montero and Zack Greinke also were hit by pitches in that game.
“No, it’s not over yet, not at all,” Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario said at the time. “I don’t think anybody thinks it’s over.”
The teams never left their benches again the rest of last season, but several Diamondbacks -- and Arizona Sen. John McCain -- blasted the Dodgers for celebrating their NL West title with a dip in the Chase Field swimming pool beyond the outfield wall. The Diamondbacks' management had asked the Dodgers to confine their celebration to the visiting clubhouse.
Hostilities between the teams stretch back to a 2011 incident that included a yelling match between Clayton Kershaw and Gerardo Parra, who had admired a home run off another Dodgers pitcher. The next game, Kershaw hit Parra with a pitch. Kershaw is the starting pitcher for the Dodgers Saturday night.
“I’m just going to play baseball. I don’t know what their sentiment is behind it,” Kershaw said. “For us, it’s just a new season. We’re just going to play the game. I don’t really know what could or would happen.”
The teams, who arrived in Australia on Tuesday, haven’t pretended they like one another. They’ve only said they’ll confine the competition to pitching, hitting and fielding. Some of the combatants from last June’s brawl, including Kennedy and Belisario, are now on other teams.
“When you play somebody 19 times in the course of the season, you get tired of seeing them. It’s pretty much as simple as that,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Like [Kirk Gibson] said, we’re going to try to break up two. We’ve got to pitch inside, they’ve got to pitch inside. It’s just going to be baseball. Sometimes, it just gets a little heated.”
Diamondbacks management took several verbal shots at the Dodgers over the offseason. The team has emphasized toughness under Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers. Just last week, Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley -- who starts Saturday’s game -- plunked Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the calf with a pitch. Colorado manager Walt Weiss said at the time he thought the pitch was intentional.
In separate interviews back in November and before spring training, Towers said he wanted his pitchers to strike more fear in opposing teams.
“I think, come spring training, it’s going to be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another,” Towers said.
Said Howell, “We know the difference between an accident and on purpose.”