The National League Central was shaping up as a season-long bloodbath, and now we have some bad blood as well between the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates to spice things up. I suppose there will be those out there decrying the decline of civilization and need for severe punishment after the two clubs brawled in the top of the third inning of Sunday's game, but this is part of baseball: Tempers flare, players lose their cool and sometimes benches clear.
Fighting used to be a much larger part of baseball. The '86 Mets had four on-field brawls, including this infamous fight between Ray Knight and Eric Davis of the Reds, as Knight dropped his glove and went to his best Marquess of Queensberry impersonation for hardly any reason at all. The closest Cal Ripken came to missing a game during his consecutive games streak came the day after this Mariners-Orioles brawl. If you were fan during the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s, you can easily recount a big brawl involving your favorite team.
Things have toned down the past 15 years as punishments for brawls became more severe. But fights have also decreased as salaries have increased; with more money comes the expectation of a certain level of professional civility (and more to lose if you get injured) -- fewer brawls, fewer managers throwing fits like a 3-year-old child and more respect for your opponent.
That’s what made this brawl interesting. It didn’t result from the usual issue of pitching inside or hitting a batter or Brian McCann getting upset, but from Carlos Gomez hitting a triple. It all began when Gomez hit a two-out fly ball to center, flipped his bat and admired his own awesomeness, which he has been known to do -- except the ball didn’t clear the fence, rebounded past Andrew McCutchen and Gomez didn’t turn on the jet skis until he rounded first base. Given Gomez’s blazing speed, he may have been able to turn the hit into an inside-the-park home run he had ran hard out of the batter’s box.
Pitcher Gerrit Cole, backing up third on the play, obviously chirped a little something to Gomez and Gomez went a little Ray Knight, swinging his batting helmet at one point. The benches cleared and the players weren’t wishing each other a Happy Easter. In the middle of the scuffle, Brewers backup catcher Martin Maldonado cold-cocked Pirates outfielder Travis Snider with a solid right to the head.
So, the ramifications? The umpires will file an initial incident report to MLB senior vice president of standards and on-field operations Joe Garagiola Jr., who will review the report and video and make a recommendation to Joe Torre and the suspensions should be issued in a couple days.
Gomez and Snider (who came off the bench) were ejected from the game and face likely suspensions. Gomez’s reputation -- he got into two incidents with the Braves last season -- probably won’t help here, and swinging equipment is almost surely an automatic suspension. Maldonado may draw the longest suspension for his punch.
Look, while a little bad blood is a good thing for us fans, this is clearly an incident in which Gomez should have remained cool (Cole admitted he let his emotions get the best of him, telling Gomez not to watch the ball if he's going to hit triples). Gomez did showboat, which I don't really mind as long as the ball actually clears the fence, and potentially cost his a team a run (the Brewers didn’t score that inning).
You can argue Cole could have handled things differently as well, like buzzing Gomez the next time he was up if he didn’t like the preening at home plate, but that’s a potentially more dangerous situation than saying some heated words as you walk back to the pitcher’s mound.
Oh, there was still a game to be played and the Brewers got the final word in what turned into a 14-inning marathon. While the discussion will be about the brawl, the most important aspect of the game is that the Pittsburgh bullpen blew another late lead. Jason Grilli blew the save in the ninth when Ryan Braun homered with one out to tie it up. This came a night after Braun belted a two-run homer off Grilli in the ninth to give the Brewers an 8-7 win. Khris Davis eventually homered off Jeanmar Gomez in the 14th and Francisco Rodriguez locked down his seventh save.
The Brewers have an MLB-best 14-5 record and a big part of that is they’ve cleaned up on the Pirates with a 6-1 record. The Pirates, now 8-11, didn’t lose many of these games last year -- they were 80-4 when leading entering the ninth inning -- and now have to be concerned about their closer bouncing back from back-to-back blown saves as they play the Reds and Cardinals this week.