The pitch that turned around the Rays’ season

When people look back at the June brawl between the Red Sox and Rays, they’ll remember the James Shield’s punch that Coco Crisp so eloquently dodged out of the way of. But as John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times writes, it wasn’t Shield’s punch that affected the Rays’ season – it was his message pitch.

Red Sox-Rays brawlIn case you have forgotten, the underlying cause of Tampa Bay’s brawl with the Red Sox in early June was Crisp’s cheap shot on Aki Iwamura at second base the night before. Crisp was annoyed that Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett had blocked the base earlier in the game, and he took his frustrations out on Iwamura.

Obviously, there is no manual on how to deal with such a transgression. And there is no one in charge of dispensing justice. It is simply expected that someone hold Crisp accountable.
And, at times, that had been a problem in the Rays clubhouse.

Over the years, Rays hitters have not always felt protected by Tampa Bay pitchers. The point was driven home most publicly in the spring of 2007 when Ty Wigginton yelled at his own dugout after being hit by a pitch.

And so it was that Shields, 26, took the mound on June 5. The Rays had lost two in a row, had fallen out of first place the night before, and Shields had not won a game in nearly a month. And, at that moment, none of it mattered.

On his second pitch to Crisp in the second inning, Shields drilled him in the hip.

In a lot of ways, this fight was costly to Tampa Bay. Shields was suspended for six games, Gomes for five, Edwin Jackson for five, Carl Crawford for four and Iwamura for three.
But for all the Rays lost, they say they gained far more.

Much like the brawl with the Yanks in spring training, the Rays believe the fight with the Red Sox was a statement, both in their dugout and the opposite dugout.

You could argue whether Shields chose the right moment. Yes, maybe he could have waited until later in the game, so he wouldn’t have put such a burden on the bullpen. But loyalty doesn’t work on such strict timetables.

The brotherhood in baseball is part of what makes the game so great. Players in other sports obviously come to their teammates’ defense, but in baseball it’s different – it’s an unwritten rule. When 25 guys are together virtually every day from March until late fall, there’s going to be a bond that’s forced. And it’s kind of cool to see that bond unfold like it did in the Rays-Sox brawl, although obviously I don’t advocate teams fight nightly to show their unity.

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