Carlos Gomez's penchant for admiring his home runs has been known to rub opponents the wrong way. On Sunday afternoon, the Pirates took umbrage at his reaction to a ball that the Brewers centerfielder thought he had hit out — but did not — and his response triggered a bench-clearing brawl.
Facing Gerrit Cole with two outs in the third inning at PNC Park, Gomez drove a pitch deep to centerfield, flipping his bat as though he'd hit a homer. However, the ball didn't leave the yard, instead hitting near the top of the wall, and the carom evaded Andrew McCutchen, who fell down before retrieving it. Gomez, who had jogged to first base, proceeded to turn on the jets and slid into third with a triple. When he got up, he and Cole (who had backed up the play at third) exchanged heated words.
Third base umpire Jim Reynolds interceded, restraining Gomez as benches and bullpens emptied, but Gomez broke away from the umpire's grasp, whereupon the situation escalated into a full-scale donnybrook:
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Gomez threw punches at Pittsburgh's Travis Snider, then sparred with Russell Martin; both Pirates had come off the bench to join the scrum. Gomez broke away and then Snider pushed him down before being tackled by Rickie Weeks and punched by Martin Maldonado. After a delay of several minutes, Gomez, Snider and Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron were all ejected, while Cole remained in the game, clinging to a 1-0 lead in a matchup against Milwaukee's Marco Estrada. The 23-year-old phenom wound up throwing eight innings of one-run ball, but for the second day in a row, Pirates closer Jason Grilli blew a save by serving up a ninth-inning homer to Ryan Braun. The Brewers prevailed 3-2 in 14 innings on the strength of Khris Davis' home run.
While the 28-year-old Gomez has evolved into one of the game's brightest stars over the past couple of years, his on-field antics have generated controversy. Last September, his extended admiration of a home run off Atlanta's Paul Maholm was followed by verbal exchanges with Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson as he rounded the bases. Braves catcher Brian McCann intercepted him at home plate before he could cross, benches emptied mid-play, things came to blows, and Gomez was among those ejected. Though he showed contrition afterwards via Twitter, he was fined and suspended for one game.
One has to think that Gomez is facing another wallet-lightening vacation due to this incident. This time, he's even further into the wrong, and not only because he looked foolish for pimping a non-home run. One can argue that Gomez's past history with Maholm (who had thrown at him in the past) and McCann's preemptive action were what escalated last fall's confrontation into the physical realm, but this time it was Gomez who started throwing punches and kept attempting to engage in fisticuffs even after being restrained. Which isn't to exonerate Cole, who provoked Gomez and then walked away to leave teammates to do the dirty work of backing him up, but he wasn't the one who tried to hit somebody.
I'm not one to begrudge a player's on-field celebration, or to suggest that Gomez needs to eliminate the considerable flair that he brings to the game; too often fans, media and even players fail to recognize the cultural divide
that underlies differing notions of "playing the game the right way." That said, once the ball Gomez thought he had hit out stayed in the field of play, he'd have been better off avoiding further confrontation in order to defuse a tense situation, rather than escalating it. He's lucky he didn't get injured in the ensuing melee, and while he's likely to apologize again for his antics, he — and the Brewers — will still have to pay the price for them.