ST. PETERSBURG -- As far as everyone in the Rays' clubhouse was concerned, there was little room for doubt about what happened in the sixth inning of the Red Sox's 14-inning, 10-8 win at Tropicana Field on Monday night.
Both benches cleared after Red Sox starter John Lackey hit Rays right fielder Matt Joyce in the shoulder blade with a 90-mph fastball. Lackey said he was simply "trying to come in there and get him off the plate a little bit." Tampa Bay, suffice it to say, did not agree with Lackey's assessment.
"Honestly, I felt like it was a pretty bush league move," Joyce said. "I think it was very obvious."
"He intentionally hit him when he did," added Rays manager Joe Maddon. "There's no question in my mind that he did."
With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the sixth, Lackey's 0-1 fastball hit Joyce in the upper back. Joyce immediately flipped his bat, turned around and began pointing at and talking to Lackey, leaving no doubt he believed the plunking was intentional. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia got in front of Joyce as they moved down the first-base line, resulting in a minor shoving match that prompted both dugouts to empty out onto the field.
No punches were thrown and no one was ejected, but there was a bit of pushing and shoving from both sides. After the dust settled, home-plate umpire Tom Hallion issued warnings to both dugouts.
What prompted the tension between the two American League East rivals? Rewind to the second inning.
Joyce, who hit a leadoff homer in the first inning off Lackey, worked a 3-0 count and drilled a long foul ball to right field. He then dropped his bat as if he'd hit a home run, which appeared to upset Lackey. Joyce said it was because he was disappointed in himself for missing a pitch he should have hit for another homer, but Lackey was seen yelling toward the Rays' dugout as he walked back toward the Red Sox bench after inducing an inning-ending groundout from Joyce.
"I don't know if he was so upset that I swung 3-0. It was more so the bat drop after I hit it," Joyce said. "For me, I never really feel like I show anybody up. I never try to pimp anything or anything like that. I felt like I got a really good pitch to hit and missed it and was upset. But to hit somebody for that, I think that's absolutely ridiculous."
The Red Sox thought otherwise. Manager John Farrell said Lackey needed to create some space off the plate when, "obviously, the pitch got away from him."
"They were swinging quite a bit, at pretty much everything I threw up there," added Lackey, "so I was trying to maybe get a little bit of plate for me."
Jonny Gomes, who was on the Rays' side of the most memorable brawl between these two clubs in June 2008, agreed that Lackey had to pitch inside after Joyce's first-inning homer.
"It was definitely justified if anybody thought it was intentional," Gomes said, "but I don't think it was, truly."
The Rays, clearly, disagreed. Maddon was particularly harsh on Lackey, who he considers a friend based on their time together with the Angels, calling the pitch "a really inappropriate gesture on his part."
"The sad part is I've always considered Lackey a good teammate, but right there he could get one of his own players hurt," Maddon added. "I really did sense among the group of Red Sox that they were totally not into that moment, because they knew it was inappropriate to hit Matt on purpose, and furthermore because one of them could get hurt. So that's being a bad teammate, as far as I'm concerned. In the past, he was always a good teammate. That was really a bad moment for him tonight."