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Shock and Awful
2003-10-13 01:57
by Mike Carminati

The backers of the V-chip are right: there is a lot of violence on TV. It's too bad that so much of it occurs in televised sports. As a sports fan I have been witness to, and so probably have you:

Roberto Alomar spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck.

Joe Theisman's leg being snapped like a wishbone.

Kermit Washington punching Rudy Tomjanovich in the face.

Vladimir Guerrero rushing the mound, bat in hand, after being hit by a Brad Penny pitch.

Guillermo Mota throwing his glove at a charging Mike Piazza after plunking same.

And Thom "Ted Baxter" Brennamen's baseball play-by-play.

I have seen a lot in my three decades of sports fandom, but I had never seen a 72-year-old man wrestled to the ground. Until now. As I'm sure you know, Boston's Pedro Martinez performed that stunning by scuffling with Yankee coach Don Zimmer en route to a game three loss to New York on Saturday.

It all started in the top of the fourth. The score was tied 2-2 at the start of the inning, but Pedro Martinez started to lose control of the game. He walked Jorge Posada to lead off the inning and then gave up a single to Nick Johnson and a ground-rule double to Hidecki Matsui which scored Posada. This gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead and two men in scoring position, and still there were no outs in the inning. Next up was lefthander Karim Garcia, who had driven in the first Yankee run on the night in the second inning, followed by right-handed Alfonso Soriano. As Martinez is a right-hander, one might expect him to intentionally walk Garcia to get to the right-hander with the possibility of a double play.

That's the way that it played out but Martinez did not use an IBB to get there. He took a more economical route. Martinez's first pitch to Garcia was a fastball aimed more or less at his head. Garcia ducked and the ball apparently hit his bat. He was awarded first for having the ball graze his back though that was not apparent to me even on replays. Also, the fact that Garcia stood in the box after the pitch and stared in wonderment was viewed by the broadcasting team as an indication that he had not been hit instead of the confusion attendant in having one's head being used as a bull's eye.

The umpires warned both benches. Martinez's strategy worked like a charm as Soriano grounded into a double play. Though the Yankees did score one run, Martinez got out of the jam. After the plunk, he sent the next 11 batters down in order.

On the double play ball, Garcia ran hard into second baseman Todd Walker adding fuel to the fire. As Garcia left the field, Martinez pointed to his head and yelled something like "I'm going to hit you in the head" to Posada as he left the field upon scoring. The dugouts started to empty and Joe Torre argued against his pitcher having to share in the umpire's warning. Zimmer and Posada were then seen screaming at Martinez from the dugout.

To lead off the bottom of the fourth, a Roger Clemens' offering sailed high on the inner half of the plate to Manny Ramirez. Ramirez, apparently anticipating aYankee retaliation, took umbrage at the pitch and charged the mound. Both dugouts quickly emptied.

Suddenly, Don Zimmer appeared as if on cue and lunged meekly at Martinez. Martinez, with game face in tact, grabbed the septuagenarian by the head and jerked him to the ground. The incident was such a shock that one can see teammate David Ortiz cringing in the replay and it effectively broke up the fracas.

Zimmer was hit by a pitch in 1953 and was unconscious for two weeks and unable to speak for six. He returned the next season, but in the 1955 World Series had a pitch break his cheekbone. He had a plate inserted in his head as well as having both knees replaced. He is, as one would expect, sensitive to headhunting pitches.

The rest of the game was played under an eerie pall with the Yankees winning, 4-3.. A pitch sailed up on Kevin Millar that was closer to him than the Ramirez pitch, but to Millar's credit he just took it and waited for the next pitch. There were no further incidents until a ground crew member, who was originally identified as a fan, had an altercation with Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia in the bottom of the ninth.

I have always respected Martinez. He is one of the best pitchers of his generation. But what he did in front of a national audience in a mid-afternoon game is inexcusable. He clearly was headhunting when Garcia came to the plate. That's bad enough, but when he yelled at Posada and indicated that he would hit him, it got worse. The coups de grace was leveling Zimmer. Zimmer is far from the avuncular little sprite that the media make him out to be, but he is an enfeebled, elderly man. Martinez could have easily avoided him or just held him but instead he sought Zimmer out and engaged in the lopsided fight. How Martinez can live with himself after that is beyond me.

It all left me very angry. The Red sox fans chanting "Yankees suck" while Martinez all but dared the umpires to eject him was extremely galling. Add Manny Ramirez unnecessarily inciting a riot and the Red Sox look very much the aggressors. (By the way Tim McCarver, "inciteful" is not a word but "insightful" is, but that's a word that is alien to you.)

Yes, the Yankees are not without fault. Garcia did run Walker down, but that was in retaliation for Martinez's William Tell act. Zimmer was engaging Martinez but he is about as intimidating as Grandpa Simpson.

Look, I just don't want to hear about the curse or the karaoke guy or the shaved heads or the "cowboy up" palaver. It's not cute or even annoying anymore. It's just inappropriate, like a joke at a funeral.

I used to refer to Martinez as simply Pedro. Like I call Barry Bonds "Barry", Alex Rodriguez "A-Rod", Roger Clemens "Rocket", and Sammy Sosa just "Sammy". These are larger than life players that like that icon Cher don't need any further introduction. That was before. Now I don't want a cute, short name for Martinez. He's one of the best pitchers that I have ever seen, but I now admit that begrudgingly. He's a bad man, a very bad man. I wish him into the cornfield.

Martinez took a potentially highly enjoyable series and made it nauseating. All I want is for the series to end, the Red Sox to go home for the winter, and for me not to see there bald countenances until next spring.

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