BOSTON — The Red Sox either didn’t have the time or the inclination to get their stories straight about the bench-clearing melee they staged with the Yankees on Wednesday night at Fenway Park in just their second meeting of this young season.
Boston reliever Joe Kelly insisted the 98 mph fastball that drilled Tyler Austin in the seventh inning was merely an inside pitch and “it’s one of those that got away.” Sox shortstop Brock Holt, who said he was spiked in the calf by Austin’s slide into second base during the third inning, described Kelly’s fastball as showing “we’ve got each other’s backs.”
The benches and bullpens first emptied after Austin’s third inning slide, but no real blows were exchanged. The Yanks were up 5-1 in what became a 10-7 win and Neil Walker was on second and Austin on first when Tyler Wade bunted to third base. Rafael Devers spun and made the throw to a stretching Holt for the out. Austin’s lead foot on his slide made contact with Holt’s back leg several inches off the ground.
Austin had begun back toward the Yankees dugout when he quickly turned in response to words from Holt. Both teams came pouring out on to the field.
“I probably said something I shouldn’t have to start it off,” Holt said. “I just wanted him to know it was a bad slide and I think he knows that now.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said “he over-slid it and his spikes were up” and Holt added “I am stretching like a first baseman to get the lead out and I have someone sliding into my leg — that’s not one of the plays where you expect someone to come after you.”
Kelly’s seventh-inning fastball caused everything to boil over. The fracas featured Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton interceding quickly to separate the sides and pull Kelly out of the middle and toward the Boston dugout. Kelly and Austin ended up being ejected, as was Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin, who was animated in the brawl when it started and later charged out on to the field to object to something as Boston reliever Brian Johnson warmed up so the game could continue.
The righthander said he didn’t expect anything to happen after Austin was hit and umpire Hunter Wendelstedt pointed to first base. But as Austin slammed down the bat and took a few steps toward the mound, Kelly gestured to him as if to say “bring it on” before the fight ensued.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it,” Kelly said. “It’s a pitch that gets away and hits an opposing player. The umpire says ‘take your base’ and other things went down . . . I was ready to defend myself . . . If I’m being attacked, I’m going to defend myself.”
Asked a second time about the purpose of the pitch and whether he expects a suspension, Kelly said “it’s not like I have perfect command. I walk a batter per inning. It’s not like I have Greg Maddux’s command. I don’t think I should be suspended . . . There was no intent there.”
Though everything between the ancient rivals had returned to a simmer by game’s end, things rarely remain calm between the two organizations. Holt was asked if he thought he might end up on the business end of a purpose pitch in the series finale Thursday night and said, “I don’t think they’re going to hit me.
“If they hit anyone,” he added, “I don’t think I am going to be the person they come after.”