'Man's game': Tigers win brawl-filled contest; Cabrera among 8 ejected
Detroit -- You could see this one coming a mile away. Or, perhaps, a Gary Sanchez home run away.
Not a Tigers win, mind you, but rather the rising tensions between the Tigers and Yankees -- who all-out brawled once and emptied the benches twice more as eight coaches and players were ejected on a wild and cuss-filled Thursday afternoon of beanball at Comerica Park.
The Tigers won, 10-6, for just their second victory since Aug. 12. The end result, though, will be just a footnote when this ballgame is discussed and dissected years from now.
"It's a man's game," said Tigers catcher James McCann, who was smack dab in the middle of the action, game-related and boxing-related, all day long. "It's a bunch of grown men competing, and in a game like that, tempers are flaring, stuff's gonna happen."
And, yeah, boy, did it ever.
The main event of a three-fight card occurred in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera and Yankees catcher Austin Romine got into an intense shoving match that ignited a benches-clearing brawl. It immediately spiced up what figured to be a ho-hum, getaway-day game.
With the first pitch of the at-bat to Cabrera, Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle chucked it behind him, seemingly clear retaliation for a Michael Fulmer pitch that hit Sanchez, the Yankees slugger, in the hip in the fifth. The previous inning, Sanchez had homered, his fourth of the series.
Sanchez was not happy about being plunked, and understandably after hitting nearly 1,800 feet of homers in the three games, and he strolled slowly to first. After that half-inning, Sanchez walked gingerly off the field, glancing twice at the Tigers dugout.
"If you can't see that Fulmer clearly hit Sanchez on purpose," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the YES Network, "there's something wrong."
Fulmer's here to tell you, then, there's something wrong. Having battled numbness and tingling in his fingers over the last month, even landing on the disabled list because of it, he said he felt the worst "zap" down his fingers that he's felt, on that very pitch. Trainers came out, and he threw several warmpus, but he stayed in the game -- and struck out the next batter, Aaron Judge, to end the inning.
After Kahnle's pitch in the sixth, Cabrera stepped out of the box, then strutted back in before getting right in Romine's face. The Yankees catcher, who is the brother of Tigers utilityman Andrew Romine, ripped off his mask. Cabrera shoved him, then tried a few punches before Romine tackled him by lowering his shoulder to the big man's midsection.
Before you knew it, there were hundreds of millions of dollars of commodities, rolling around on the infield grass, sucker punches at seemingly every turn.
On the ground, Romine got in a few punches to Cabrera's back, which has bothered him all season long. Sanchez also raced right into the thick of the scrum and landed several punches, including one on Cabrera, seemingly to the head, while he was on the ground. Sanchez also drilled Nick Castellanos.
"It felt like he wanted a confrontation there," Austin Romine told reporters afterward, of Cabrera, mired in his worst season in the major leagues -- and fresh off two bad at-bats, a flyout and a strikeout, in which he stranded five runners. "And I just tried to defend myself the best I could."
Andrew Romine eventually stepped in to make peace with his brother, while umpires also worked to calm the situation and sort things out. Despite no warnings having been issued by umpires, that scuffle led to four ejections -- Kahnle, Cabrera, Romine and Yankees manager Joe Girardi. With Romine's ejection, Sanchez had to move to catcher, meaning the Yankees lost their designated hitter. Sanchez got to stay in the game because his antics weren't seen by umpires, but the Commissioner's Office certainly will get a better look in the coming days.
The teams went at it again an inning later, after a really scary scene, when new Yankees reliever Dellin Betances drilled the first batter he faced, McCann, in the helmet with a 98-mph fastball. Several Tigers immediately jumped out of the third-base dugout, and manager Brad Ausmus was particularly fired up, exchanging words with several Yankees.
There were no punches thrown during that altercation, which led to the eventual ejection of Betances -- originally, he was not thrown out, but crew chief Dana DeMuth changed his mind -- and Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson -- irate at the umpires' reversal. Betances was shocked at the ejection, pointing to the scoreboard, which read 6-6, as if to say he would never intentionally hit a batter in a tie game. The Yankees are in a playoff race, after all, though headhunting after an earlier brawl always will get you tossed. The optics aren't good.
"I don't think Betances ... did it intentionally, but you do have to be able to command the ball at this level, as well," Ausmus said. "Especially with the McCann thing, a guy gets hit in the head and there's a warning, something has to be done."
McCann, who also was in the thick of the earlier brawl -- really, who wasn't? -- was motionless on the ground for several seconds, before bouncing up and being examined by trainer Kevin Rand and, after he calmed down, Ausmus. McCann stayed in the game. More on that in a moment.
David Robertson replaced Betances (3-5) and, unbelievably, hit the first batter he faced, John Hicks, with a 93-mph fastball. While boos rained down from the crowd of 32,622 -- fans who got a whole lot more bang for their buck than Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor viewers are likely to get on Saturday night -- nothing materialized there as Hicks walked slowly to first. Robertson was disgusted with himself, and it was clearly seen as an accident by all sides.
The incident the next half-inning, well, not so much.
After the Tigers retook the lead, 9-6, with three runs in the bottom of the seventh, Alex Wilson plunked Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier on the leg in the top of the eighth. Benches emptied once again, with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner particularly upset and getting into a shoving match with several Tigers before he was ripped away by his teammates. Ausmus and Wilson (2-4) were ejections seven and eight, and while pleas of innocence spewed from the postgame clubhouse, Wilson shot straight.
"I know where my pitches are going," Wilson said. "And I hit a guy in the leg today to take care of one of my teammates and protect them, and it is what it is."
Yep, no ambiguity there.
Through it all, the Tigers banged out 11 hits, led by Jose Iglesias' three -- including an RBI-double and a bases-clearing double that untied the game in the seventh inning. Iglesias has seven hits in his last three games. JaCoby Jones also had a two-run single, his first RBIs since early April.
Justin Upton homered in the first inning, his 27th, and McCann homered in the eighth, his 12th -- and that came in the very next at-bat after getting drilled in the head. He launched a Chad Smith off-speed pitch 430-some feet into the overcast sky, admired it for several seconds, then flipped the bat for all to see.
"No comment," McCann said, with a devilish smirk, his eye black melting down his face. "Nah, I think just at the point of that game, everything that had gone on up to that point, it just kind of all came out after that swing."
Truth be told, things have been brewing for a while between these clubs, as the Tigers were beside themselves July 31 in New York, when the Yankees hit three batters, including Mikie Mahtook in the head.
Anyway, Shane Greene worked a relatively calm -- and ejection-free! -- ninth for his fourth save, the crowd roaring as loud as it has in weeks when he struck out, of all people, Sanchez for the final out.
Now, as the Tigers headed to Chicago and the Yankees back home, all eyes turn to the Commissioner's Office, which will be charged with sorting out of the fines and suspensions. Those punishments will mean a whole lot more to the Yankees, fighting for the American League East, than the Tigers, blown out the first two games by a combined score of 23-6 and who have been a lost cause for quite some time.
That said, in this disaster of a season, at least the Tigers can say they are going down swinging.