The fight was part of a crazy day of punches and hit batters exchanged between the sides.
Cabrera and Romine were ejected, but they were not alone. In separate incidents, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and reliever Tommy Kahnle were ejected in the sixth inning, New York bench coach Rob Thomson and reliever Dellin Betances were ejected in the seventh, and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and reliever Alex Wilson were ejected in the eighth.
In his postgame interview, Girardi criticized the umpires, led by crew chief Dana DeMuth.
"It was just a very poor job on their part. Very, very poor," Girardi said after his team's 10-6 loss.
Girardi also said he was mad at Ausmus, saying the Tigers manager yelled an obscenity at Brett Gardner in the eighth inning, when the benches cleared for the third and final time.
"Then Brad Ausmus is going to say, 'F-U,' to one of my players," Girardi said. "I mean, come on, Brad. What is that?"
A series of events led to Cabrera and Romine jawing in the sixth. Cabrera made the first move by pushing Romine in the chest and taking a swing. Although both benches cleared and there was a lot of wrestling, the initial indication was that no one was seriously injured.
Besides Cabrera and possibly Romine, Yankees hot-hitting All-Star Gary Sanchez could be in line for a suspension after taking several shots at Tigers players during the fight.
"At that moment, instinct takes over," Sanchez said. "That's your family out there."
Just before the fight, Yankees reliever Kahnle had fired a pitch behind Cabrera. Kahnle was immediately thrown out by plate ump Carlos Torres.
This set off Girardi, who bolted from the road dugout. Girardi made a scene, kicking dirt and forcefully arguing that the ejection was unjust. Girardi said the umpires didn't understand the game.
What likely got Girardi going was that Tigers starter Michael Fulmer remained in the game and was not warned after hitting Sanchez on the hip in the fifth inning. An inning earlier, in the fourth, Sanchez had homered off Fulmer.
When the teams last played earlier this month, Fulmer had retaliated, in the Yankees' view, by plunking Jacoby Ellsbury, because Cabrera was upset about being hit by the Yankees.
It appeared that everything had calmed down after Girardi's ejection until, according to Romine, Cabrera aimed a question at him.
"He said, 'Do you have a problem with me?'" said Romine, whose brother, Andrew, plays for the Tigers. "I said, 'It is not about you.' Then he pushed me. It seemed like he wanted a confrontation, and I tried to defend myself."
Cabrera told a different version of the story.
"When they started arguing with [the] umpire, I said to Romine, 'Calm down,' and he said, 'I wasn't f---ing talking to you,'" Cabrera told reporters.
Girardi said he did not think Romine should be ejected for defending himself. It cost the Yankees their designated hitter; with Romine out, Sanchez had to move from that position to catch.
The ejections continued in the seventh inning. Betances was tossed after hitting the Tigers' James McCann in the helmet with a 98 mph fastball. Betances was ejected only after Ausmus argued.
This led Thomson, the Yankees' acting manager, to lose it, and he was ejected as well.
In the eighth, the Tigers' Wilson hit Todd Frazier near his left hip. Wilson was ejected, along with Ausmus. Both benches cleared, and while there was shoving, no more punches were thrown.
"That last one was uncalled for," Frazier said of being hit by a pitch in the eighth.
It was during this fracas that, the Yankees say, Ausmus yelled an obscenity at Gardner.
"I was looking at him," Gardner said when asked why Ausmus targeted him.
After Sanchez was initially hit in the fifth, the Yankees were clearly mad about Fulmer's plunking Sanchez. CC Sabathia, one of the team's leaders, was on the top step of the dugout, yelling at Tigers starter Fulmer.
"I understood why the Yankees were upset by it," Ausmus said. "It wasn't a surprise that they sent a message back. At that point, I thought it would be over."
It all escalated until Cabrera and Romine were rolling on the dirt around home plate. Romine and Cabrera were both ejected. Romine contested being thrown out, apparently feeling he had no choice but to fight back when Cabrera began jawing at him and pushing him.
Ausmus said he did not see the dugout confrontation because he was on the field, but he told the Detroit Free Press it did not bother him.
"Again, emotions are running high," Ausmus said. "They're running high on both sides."
Afterward, Verlander summed up the afternoon via a tweet.
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) August 24, 2017
The teams are not scheduled to play again in the regular season.