A brand new player reignites an old feud

Published March 28, 2006

FORT MYERS - Nobody wanted to think it had anything to do with the ugly past between the teams. And no one could predict whether there will be issues when they meet in the future.

Monday's bench-clearing brawl between the Devil Rays and the Red Sox bench appeared, by all accounts, to be about the present.

And that was ugly enough.

Reliever Julian Tavarez, who is new to the Sox, started it by punching Joey Gathright in the face when the Rays outfielder was down after an eighth-inning play at the plate. By the time it was over, the benches and bullpen emptied, Tavarez claimed it was no big deal and the Rays called for Tavarez to be suspended - and called him a few other choice things.

"It was such a woman move," Gathright said.

The Rays were most upset that Tavarez, who is 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds, punched Gathright, who probably is barely the listed 5-10 and 170 pounds, when he was in a defenseless position.

Gathright called it a "stupid thing" to do. Carl Crawford called it "a sucker punch." Manager Joe Maddon just called it wrong.

"I think that may require a suspension, absolutely," Maddon said. "That kind of action cannot be tolerated."

When Gathright slid into home, Tavarez tagged him out, then stepped, or stomped, on Gathright's right arm, which bore marks from his cleats. Gathright said something and pushed Tavarez's left knee to try to get free, and as he started to get up, with his right knee and right hand still on the ground, Tavarez took a swing and punched him in the face. The blow was hard enough to knock off his helmet, though Gathright said it wasn't much, more of a grazing shot to the jaw: "He hits like a woman."

As Gathright continued to get up, Tavarez took another swing, swiping the top of Gathright's head, then pushed his gloved hand into Gathright's face.

Tavarez said he took action because he was concerned that Gathright was going to hit him. "You know what they say, whoever throws the first punch gets the win," he said. "Little things happen in baseball. It's not a big deal."

Crawford and Greg Norton raced to the plate to tackle Tavarez, and within seconds both benches and bullpens emptied. There were no major altercations, though Jonny Gomes and Boston's Trent Durrington had a good scrum and Rays third-base coach Tom Foley had his already broken left toe stepped on. Tavarez and Gathright were ejected.

Once the shoving subsided and the teams separated, Crawford and Gathright were jawing and gesturing at Tavarez, who was in the Sox dugout. Crawford said it was just general frustration, but Tavarez said it was a little more than that.

"They're yelling, "Let's go one-on-one in the parking lot!' Hey man, what happened has happened. It's over," Tavarez said. "If you try to fight, you're Mike Tyson. He's a fighter, not me. He might wait for them in the parking lot, not me."

As much as Maddon didn't like what happened, he very much did like the way his team responded and said it could be a positive sign of growth.

"I really liked the way they hung together in that situation," he said. "I liked the way our guys reacted. A lot. It didn't surprise me. We're always looking for those moments of creating unity. You prefer not having it happen that way, although in a perverse way sometimes it does happen because of situations like that."

The Rays and Red Sox have developed quite a history over the past six years, including the infamous August 2000 Pedro Martinez-Gerald Williams brawl, Trot Nixon's flying bat in 2002 and last April's full-scale brawl at Tropicana Field, followed by the nasty Curt Schilling-Lou Piniella exchange. Neither Maddon nor Boston manager Terry Francona thought there was any connection.

"That was present time right there," Maddon said.

Tavarez also has a history of trouble, having been suspended three times for fighting. That includes a June 2003 episode at Tropicana Field where, with Pittsburgh at the time, Tavarez - whose cousin is Rays vice president of Hispanic outreach and military affairs Jose Tavarez - came out of the bullpen during a brawl that also involved Crawford and started throwing punches. Tavarez has also been disciplined for having pine tar on his cap, for throwing at a hitter and for making derogatory comments about fans. He also punched a wall during a playoff game and broke two fingers and has been ordered to take sensitivity classes.

Gomes said he didn't think there would be more problems when the teams next meet April 18 in Boston: "I hope not, but these are grown men and you never know who's holding a grudge."

Gathright said he was willing to let it go. "This is spring training and he's known for some things," he said. "Nobody really cares. I could care less. I'll get over this and hopefully everybody else does."