Former Cards reliever adds sock to Red Sox

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox are ready for the opening bell.

One week before their first regular-season game, excitable reliever Julian Tavarez punched Tampa Bay outfielder Joey Gathright lightly in the jaw Monday during a play at home plate Monday, the latest flareup between the teams.

Players ran from benches and bullpens but no injuries were reported as they clutched opponents and tried to keep their teammates from going after the other side.

The action came one day after Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett yelled at Philadelphia's Ryan Howard when the right-hander thought the first baseman took too long to watch what he may have thought was a homer but ended up being a long fly out.

In Boston's 12-11 win, which ended when Hee-Seop Choi walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Gathright raced home while Julio Lugo was caught in a rundown between first and second in the eighth. Second baseman Zach Borowiak threw to Tavarez, who tagged Gathright out as the outfielder slid.

Gathright said Tavarez stood on his right forearm after the tag. Tavarez agreed but said he wanted to beat Gathright to the punch.

"I saw him try to get up and I wasn't going to let him throw a punch at me right away," said Tavarez, who threw a second punch on the top of Gathright's head. "You hear about whoever throws the first punch gets the win. That's what happened."

In the Devil Rays clubhouse, Gathright rolled up his right sleeve to show a small scratch on his right forearm. He said he had pushed Tavarez's left knee to try to free his arm. But Tavarez drew his fist back with Gathright's right knee and hand still on the ground.

"It just kind of grazed the jaw," Gathright said.

Both players were calm after the game.

Gathright said "we'll forget about it tomorrow." Tavarez said, "I don't know if I hit him good or not. I just wish that would've never happened."

Tampa Bay designated hitter Jonny Gomes said he hopes no bad blood remains between the teams when they play April 18 in Boston.

"I hope not," he said. "but we're grown men out here and you never know who's holding a grudge."

In the bottom of the eighth, Choi was hit by a pitch by Wayne Franklin, but Red Sox manager Terry Francona said it didn't appear to be intentional. Still, both benches were warned.

The Red Sox and Devil Rays have been involved in several brawls. Tavarez is in his first season with Boston.

Four players and both managers were suspended for their role in a game last April 24 in which pitchers from both teams intentionally hit batters, sparking a fight.

On Sept. 27, 2004, two players from each team were hit by pitches and players ran onto the field.

In August 2000, eight Devil Rays and no Red Sox were ejected when Tampa Bay's Gerald Williams charged Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez, who had hit him with a pitch.

Monday's brawl "had nothing to do with history," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "That may require suspension, absolutely. That kind of action cannot be tolerated."

Tavarez, who played for St. Louis the past two seasons, broke the fourth finger and bones in his left hand when he tried to trash the bench after allowing a tiebreaking homer in Houston's victory in the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS.

"He punched the phone," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

On Monday he punched Gathright, a move he said he regretted.

"I'm not a fighting guy," Tavarez said, "I get along with my teammates and everybody, but when you're on the field, you know, things happen."

Gathright said he couldn't do much with Tavarez standing on his arm.

"I was like, 'Get off my arm,' and he wouldn't move," Gathright said. "It's spring training and he's known for something, so nobody really cares. I could care less. I'll get over this. Hopefully, everybody else does."

Both starting pitchers struggled, with Boston's David Wells allowing six runs in four innings and Tampa Bay's Casey Fossum giving up 10 runs in 4 1-3 innings. Boston led 7-0 after two innings, 7-6 after three and 10-6 after five. Tampa Bay tied it with four runs in the eighth -- Ty Winnington's RBI single making it 10-10.

Tim Corcoran walked the last two batters in the ninth, giving Boston the win.

Gomes and Boston's Mark Loretta had three hits each. Gomes hit his third exhibition homer and Toby Hall hit his second, both in the third against Wells.

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