BOSTON -- It was a glowing example of the awesome unifying power of baseball, proof that the game can still bring people together for meaningful conversation about the most serious issues of our time.
And it lasted 128 seconds.
At 7:12 p.m. Tuesday night, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones stepped to the plate at Fenway Park. The applause began building, and much of the crowd rose to its feet, following the suggestion of Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts that fans stand in a show of support for Jones, the target of racial abuse during the previous night's game. Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale even walked around the back of the mound to allow the ovation to last a few seconds longer, a gesture of respect he said Jones "has earned and that he deserves."
Then, at 7:14 p.m., after Sale struck out Jones, the Red Sox's ace lefty chucked a 98 mph fastball behind Orioles slugger Manny Machado, the latest salvo in a childish feud between the division rivals that has burned hot since Machado's spikes-up slide into Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia on April 21 in Baltimore. It was every bit as nasty -- and ugly -- as it sounds, and it prompted an expletive-filled postgame rant from a rightfully incensed Machado.
So much for all that goodwill and togetherness. Apparently, the hatred between the Sox and O's stops only to admonish bigots in the stands, then carries right on. Which is a shame because in the hours before Machado nearly got kneecapped, the baseball world was driving a discussion of something truly important: racial intolerance in America, or at least in America's ballparks.
Jones stood before a mass of cameras and microphones and took a stand against ignorance, saying he is "not just going to let nobody just sit there and berate me." In the Red Sox clubhouse, African-American outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Chris Young spoke emotionally about the topic, with Young acknowledging that he also has had racial slurs directed at him. In New York, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said black players in the majors "expect" to be mistreated by fans in Boston, and in Houston, Texas Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields said he was the target of racism from fans at Yankee Stadium in 2015.
"Bill Russell won 11 championships here, and the things that I heard that happened to him based solely on his skin color, it's unfortunate, man," Jones said, referring to the Boston Celtics legend. "You think that you get away from that, especially being in sports, you come across all walks of life. ... But for something like this, [it] just shows that people still live in their own world and have their own views, obviously, and some people like to express hatred towards another person, another group."
Boston mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker denounced such behavior. So did MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and players' union chief Tony Clark. Red Sox principal owner John Henry and team president Sam Kennedy issued in-person apologies to Jones, then met with Sox players, and Kennedy said the incident has compelled the team to consider season or lifetime bans for fans who are caught spewing racial epithets at Fenway.
"Everyone should feel comfortable at Fenway Park," Kennedy said. "No matter your race, your religion, political beliefs, sexual, you are welcome at Fenway."
Kennedy made those comments on the field during batting practice Tuesday, and across New England and all of baseball, everyone was listening. All because Jones spoke out.
But once Sale threw behind Machado, the narrative changed. Goodbye, stamping out racism; hello (again), beanball war. Rather than replaying the comments of Jones, Sabathia and others, the remarks that went viral were the ones from Machado that featured a total of 12 F-bombs.
"If you're going to f---ing hit me, hit me. Go ahead. F---ing hit me," Machado said. "Don't let this s--- keep lingering, f---ing around and keep trying to hit people. It's f---ing bulls---."
Machado added that he "lost respect" for the Red Sox and threatened to take matters into his own hands -- "I've got a f---ing bat too. I could go up there and crush somebody if I wanted to." -- if not for the fact that it would cause him to "get suspended for a year."
Sale declined to reveal his intentions, but he's an old-school pitcher who likely believes in eye-for-an-eye justice. He reacted to Machado's comments with a verbal shrug.
"Whatever, man," he said. "Not losing any sleep tonight."
Ugly, right? Hideous, actually. Disappointing, too, given the meaningful discourse earlier in the day.
So where do we go from here?
The Red Sox and Orioles have two games remaining in this week's series and 12 meetings left this season. That's a lot of time for angry hitters and vengeful pitchers to do something stupid, something dangerous or both, which is why the league must intervene and end it for them.
In all, the Red Sox have tried (and failed) to hit Machado five times, including the 90 mph pitch behind Machado's head on April 23 that earned reliever Matt Barnes a four-game suspension. Orioles starter Dylan Bundy hit Betts in the hip on Monday night, and at the very least, Sale was sending a message with his heat-seeking fastball at Machado's knees.
It's enough already.
"[Machado] is one of the great players in Major League Baseball, and he shouldn't have to dodge a missile every time he comes to the plate," Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Wednesday on ESPN's Baseball Tonight podcast. "He should be able to go up there and do his job. There's no room for intentionally throwing at players in Major League Baseball, OK? To have them intentionally throw at him three times, that's just unacceptable. I hope the league responds today."
Indeed, MLB must implement a real deterrent to make it all stop. Automatic suspensions and fines for any attempt to hit a player sound about right. At this point, consider it an issue of player safety.
After all, even racism in the stands can't get the Sox and O's to broker a truce for more than one afternoon and three minutes in a game.