If there was already some tension between center fielder Coco Crisp and the Tampa Bay Rays lingering from Wednesday's game, it reached a boiling point in the bottom of the second inning on Thursday.
Crisp was hit on the right leg by a pitch from Rays starter James Shields, and he immediately charged the mound. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and a fracas ensued.
When Crisp neared Shields, the right-hander unleashed a hard right hook. Crisp dodged the punch and retaliated with a glancing blow of his own.
"Just charged the mound," said Crisp. "He tried to hit me with a haymaker, missed. I threw a punch, I pretty much missed. I was feigning like I was going to go to first base just to get [catcher Dioner] Navarro off me a little bit. The rest went down to the ground."
Navarro tackled Crisp, and a couple of Tampa Bay players -- including Jonny Gomes and Carl Crawford -- took shots at Crisp while he was down.
"I didn't really like the scratches on my face," Crisp said. "People were trying to scratch like we're playing football or something. After that, people were trying to pull my hair. I'm down on the ground. The fight is pretty much over, baseball time-wise. You want to come in late and throw some extra blows, get your little blows in. That's cool. I covered up. It's all good."
Red Sox third-base coach DeMarlo Hale went after Shields.
Crisp and Shields, unsurprisingly, were ejected, as was Gomes.
The incident carried over from an incident in Wednesday night's game.
In the sixth inning of that game, Crisp stole second but injured his left thumb while colliding with the knee of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett. Crisp, unhappy with the way Bartlett had blocked the base, was thrown out trying to steal second in the eighth. In that instance he delivered a forearm to second baseman Akinori Iwamura as he was finishing his slide.
While making a pitching change, Rays manager Joe Maddon shouted at Crisp, who was standing in the dugout. Crisp shouted back.
It didn't take very long to find out that the hard feelings lingered.
"I'm all about protecting my players," said Shields. "I think what he did yesterday was an absolutely dirty move, and I think it's bush league. And I don't think it's supposed to be in professional baseball. I'm out there to protect my players, no matter what the cost is. If I've got to get out in the second inning, I've got to get out in the second inning. I felt I did it the right way, and he came after me."
Crisp actually agreed that Shields went after him in proper fashion -- at least with the pitch.
"I think Navarro, I credit him, and I actually credit Shields, too," Crisp said. "Even though we went at it, he hit me in the leg, he didn't try to hit me in the head. That's good. He didn't try to kill me. Then I went out there, then he tried to hit me in the head. It is what it is now. I would say tit for tat. I'd say I got the worst of it, because I'm running out there, and they can get to me before our guys can get there to help."
Why was Crawford so incensed that he aimed such aggression at Crisp while he was being held down by other players?
"The fact he slid into Aki hard yesterday and the fact he charged the mound, it set me off when he ran and [then] he decided to try and charge the mound," Crawford said. "That didn't sit too well with me at all."
Shields was replaced by reliever Grant Balfour, and Chris Carter -- making his Major League debut -- pinch-ran for Crisp. Jacoby Ellsbury moved from left to center, and Carter took over in left field.
The prevailing thought after the game is that the situation just might have resolved itself.
"The way it played out, the players took care of business on the field," Maddon said. "And after the incident occurred, I thought it was all over. It's one of those things baseball players do whenever you feel like one of your guys has been unfairly, wrongly attacked, basically. The natural tendency is to defend your own."
The next rebuttal is likely to come from the Major League Baseball office.
"It happens, and I'm sure it will be reviewed by tape numerous times," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "What we wanted to do was win the game, and that's what we did. I know a lot happened in between."
It remains to be seen if the situation will carry over to Tropicana Field at the end of June.
"I don't know if it's over or not, but like I said, tit for tat," Crisp said. "Right now, it's even to me, so it is what it is."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less