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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Reeling Yankees fight back, literally, against Red Sox

Tyler Austin charges the mound in the seventh after Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly drills him in the back with a pitch.

From left, Chris Sale of the Red Sox,

From left, Chris Sale of the Red Sox, Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Rafael Devers work to separate a fight involving Joe Kelly of the Red Sox and Tyler Austin of the Yankees during the seventh inning at Fenway Park on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Boston. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Maddie Meyer

The Red Sox’s version of Fenway justice apparently considers accidental contact on a slide worthy of a 98-mph fastball to the elbow. After that led to punches flying and benches clearing in Wednesday night’s melee, the Yankees made them think twice about pulling stunts like that in the future, especially with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton pushing piles around like offensive lineman in their peace-making efforts.

“Just protecting my guys,” Stanton said.

The Yankees ultimately prevailed, 10-7, for a victory that felt pretty important for mid-April, and was extra-satisfying after trading fists in the seventh inning. We also learned that the Red Sox remain very sensitive about being touched anywhere around the bases — ask Manny Machado — and Tyler Austin, to his credit, isn’t a guy who takes any, um, stuff from opposing players.

To think this WrestleMania was sparked by Austin clipping Boston shortstop Brock Holt on a slide into a second base was an example of the Sox being way too dramatic about the whole episode. This wasn’t Chase Utley cracking Ruben Tejada’s leg in two during the 2015 playoffs. Austin’s left foot kicked up when he was coming in hot to second and inadvertently got Holt in the right calf as he was hopping off.

Holt immediately spun around to get in the shocked Austin’s face, but second base umpire David Rackley quickly stepped between them. Holt was even peeling away from the confrontation as the benches and dugouts cleared for nothing more than a harmless standoff.

“I felt like it was a clean slide,” Austin said in the cramped visitors clubhouse. “I play hard, but I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody.”

Even Holt said afterward that he didn’t feel it was intentional — just a “bad” slide, which is what he told Austin. And yet, Sox reliever Joe Kelly took it upon himself — four innings later — to rifle a fastball for a direct-hit on Austin’s elbow. No wonder Austin was furious. He first slammed his bat, then tossed it away as Kelly could be seen yelling, “Come on!” Not the behavior of a blameless pitcher, and Brian Cashman had no problem with Austin’s retaliatory charging of the mound.

“What are you supposed to do when somebody drills you and calls you out?” Cashman said. “In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to control your emotions.”

Austin offered no apologies either. When Sox catcher Christian Vazquez finally got a hold of Austin’s jersey, that allowed Kelly to lunge on top of him and land a few punches. As the players swarmed around, Austin appeared to blindly hit Sox third-base coach Carlos Febles.

“I’m just trying to defend myself,” Austin said. “I felt like [the pitch] was intentional and I didn’t want to let anyone push me around.”

The Yankees had that vibe all night — even before the brawling. They took a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning on Stanton’s two-run triple followed by a towering two-run homer by Gary Sanchez, who hammered it high over the Monster. Austin made it 5-1 in the third on an RBI single before tangling with Holt on a fielder’s choice groundout.

Even with tempers rising momentarily, nobody expected that to spark an all-out war. Unless the Red Sox already were conspiring to get revenge for a fairly routine baseball play.

“There was nothing remotely dirty about that slide,” Aaron Boone said. “That was pretty innocuous if you ask me. To construe that as a dirty play or be offended by that, I don’t buy that at all.”

Austin should feel honored. The Red Sox repeatedly targeted Machado last season when they fingered him for a late slide that also was debatable, and the bullying didn’t work against the Orioles’ perennial MVP candidate.

Led by Austin’s charge, the Yankees didn’t back down Wednesday night. They didn’t start the fight, but with the 6-8 Judge and 6-7 Stanton clearing bodies, they showed they’re willing to end them — decisively.

“I think it’s probably over,” Boone said.

The Red Sox would be smart to call a truce. Before they get themselves hurt.

New York Sports