Yordano Ventura and the Kansas City Royals need a timeout. On Thursday, for the second time in as many starts, Ventura’s night ended in an ejection, this one coming after he and White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton got into a shouting match after Eaton hit a comebacker to the mound that ended the seventh inning. That touched off a benches-clearing brawl that reignited the embers between Royals centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija, whose conflict stemmed from the latter drilling the former in the left arm with his first pitch following a Mike Moustakas home run on Opening Day. By the time the game resumed, five players had been ejected, including both starting pitchers in Ventura and Chicago’s Chris Sale (who had dueled to a 2-2 tie for seven innings), Samardzija, Cain and Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez, who came off the bench to throw a couple of haymakers.
In their last six games, spanning Ventura’s last two starts, the Royals have drawn nine ejections (five more than any other team has on the entire season) and been involved in multiple bench-clearing brawls with two different teams (the A’s and White Sox), and Ventura himself has verbally attacked an opposing hitter in each of his last three starts. Thus far, no one has gotten hurt, but at the rate they’re going, it will only be a matter of time before the Royals’ extracurricular aggressiveness results in an injury to another player or one of their own. Less than a month into the follow-up to their dream 2014 season, the Royals have gone from being a team nearly impossible not to root for to baseball’s resident heel.
Brett Lawrie's slide ignites weekend of plunkings, ejections for A's, Royals
That heel-turn took effort. As recently as last Friday, the Royals were more victim than aggressor. First there was Samardzija drilling Cain on Opening Day with a 93-mph two-seamer that started inside and tailed in. Then there was Oakland’s Brett Lawrie, a notorious hot-head, sliding late into Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to break up a double play last Friday, knocking Escobar out of that game and the next two as well. The poor Royals.
Then came Escobar’s bizarre reactions to Lawrie’s apologetic texts after the game. According to Lawrie, who said he got Escobar’s number from Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, Escobar wrote him back and refused to accept his apology, claiming, like Cain did regarding Samardzija, that the incident was intentional. Escobar then told the media that he had never received a text from Lawrie at all.
Enter Ventura. In the top of the fourth inning on Saturday, after giving up a three-run home run to Josh Reddick, Ventura drilled Lawrie in the side with a 99-mph fastball, drawing his first ejection of the season and causing the benches to clear. The next day, Royals manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland were ejected for arguing after Cain was hit in the ankle by a Scott Kazmir sinker in the bottom of the first. Later in that game, with the Royals up 2-1 and two men out in the top of the eighth, Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera threw a 100-mph pitch behind Lawrie, drawing not only an ejection for he and bench coach Don Wakamatsu, but a five-day suspension for himself as well, causing both benches to empty and Escobar, still inactive, to be tossed also.
Then came Thursday night’s game and the dust-up touched off by Ventura and Eaton, marking the fourth time in the Royals' last seven games that the benches cleared and the first time in that span that actual fighting took place, with Cain and Samardzija at the center of the action and Volquez throwing punches. Suddenly the Royals have gone from being lovable underdogs who play hard and clean to roughnecks with a big chip on their collective shoulder. That may be little more than narrative, but the fact of the matter is that the Royals can’t continue to throw at opponents and instigate bench-clearing brawls without adversely affecting their season. Herrera has already drawn a suspension, and if they keep mixing it up, someone is going to get hurt far worse than Escobar, who returned to action on Monday. It’s true that the Royals have been hit by a pitch a major league-leading 17 times this season, tied with the Rangers, while hitting just five batters, actually a tick below league average, but an eye-for-an-eye just leaves everyone blind.
Ventura, especially, needs to learn this lesson. In addition to being responsible for three of the five batters hit by Royals pitches this season, he has gotten into it with an opposing hitter in each of his last three starts, beginning with his confrontation with Mike Trout in his second start of the season, and has caused the benches to empty each time. Some of that may be the natural competitiveness of a young fireballer, as seen when he stared down Pablo Sandoval on a comebacker in last year’s World Series, but there’s a difference between being intense and being confrontational, and Ventura has crossed the line in three of his four starts this year. None of those incidents in and of themselves might have been enough to draw a suspension from Major League Baseball (though one could argue his hitting Lawrie should have), but his accumulated actions should at this point.
Either way, the Royals’ coaching staff and front office need to act to curb Ventura’s actions. Four starts into his sophomore season, the 23-year-old Ventura has yet to be removed from a game by his manager because he has twice come down with a crippling cramp and twice been ejected. That’s the track record of a young player who is spinning out of control. Given Ventura’s talent, potential and importance to his team, the Royals can’t allow that to happen, and they can’t continue to treat baseball games like gladiatorial combat and expect to emerge unscathed.
Hosmer, for one, acknowledged as much after Thursday night’s game, suggesting a team meeting was in order. “You’re always concerned, especially when punches are starting to be thrown,” Hosmer said, according to the Des Moines Register. “You want to make sure ... no one gets hurt, because there’s a lot of good players out there, especially a guy like Sale, or someone like that. They’re the face of this game. You don’t want them getting hurt over a stupid brawl like that. ... We need to just meet as a group and control our emotions a little better as a team.”
The Royals have three more games against the White Sox this weekend, and while Samardzija will not pitch in any of them, Volquez is slated to start on Saturday. Here’s hoping the Royals’ players and coaches do indeed take the initiative to de-escalate things in this series and beyond before someone does get hurt and before the league feels compelled to get involved. With regard to the latter, however, it may already be too late.
GALLERY: NOTORIOUS BASEBRAWLS
Marichal Brandishes Bat — Aug. 22, 1965
The Giants and the Dodgers were bitter rivals engaged in a pennant race when Juan Marichal came up to bat against Sandy Koufax. When Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro threw a ball back to Koufax that nicked Marichal's ear, the San Francisco ace struck the catcher with his bat, setting off a melee and opening a two-inch gash on Roseboro's head. Marichal was suspended nine days and fined $1,750.
Rose and Harrelson — Oct. 8, 1973
The Mets were routing the Reds 9-2 in Game 3 of the NLCS when Pete Rose slid hard into Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson at second base to try to break up a double play. Rose was upset about comments Harrelson had made in the press and shoved Harrelson, who swung his elbow. Fists started flying as both benches emptied. Pedro Borbon of the Reds and Buzz Capra of the Mets also went mano a mano, with Borbon ending up with the wrong cap — a Mets cap — on his head. When he realized what he had done, he bit a chunk out of it.
Brawl In The Bronx — May 20, 1976
When Lou Piniella collided with Carlton Fisk at home plate in an unsuccessful attempt to score, it set off a fracas that had its roots in a 1973 encounter between Fisk and Thurman Munson. Fisk tackled Piniella, while the Red Sox Bill Lee (right), who was backing up home plate, was punched by the Yankees' Mickey Rivers and then thrown to the ground by Graig Nettles, who apparently intended to keep him from joining the fray. Once Lee regained his feet, he went to throw a punch at Nettles, and when he realized he couldn't lift his left (throwing) arm, he continued jawing and was subsequently decked with a right hook that gave him a black eye.
Chaos at Camden Yards — June 6, 1993
By the time the Orioles' Mike Mussina hit Bill Hasselman in the shoulder with a high fastball in the seventh inning, tempers in this game were already running hot. Once plunked, Hasselman charged Mussina, and amid the ensuing 20-minute scuffle, Bosio re-fractured his left collarbone, an injury from which he had just returned after missing a month. He missed another 19 days and served a five-game suspension upon returning, while six other players drew suspensions of three to five games as well. Hasselman received only a three-gamer, but Mussina wasn't disciplined even though Piniella claimed that an Oriole told him that the plunking had been ordered.
The Ryan Express — Aug. 4, 1993
Robin Ventura had a decent career, but most people will remember him for getting a bunch of noogies from Nolan Ryan, who, at 46, was 20 years his elder. Ventura was ejected from the game and Ryan stayed in. The Rangers won 5-2.
Benitez Blows Up — May 19, 1998
After giving up an eighth-inning, three-run home run to Bernie Williams, O's reliever Armando Benitez drilled Tino Martinez in the back with a pitch, setting off a 10-minute brawl that included a wild sucker punch on Benitez by the Yanks' Darryl Stawberry. ''It was the worst brawl I've seen in 25 years,'' George Steinbrenner said. The Yankees ended up trading for Benitez in 2003.
Back For More — April 22, 2000
One brawl wasn't enough for the Tigers and White Sox, who fought in the seventh and ninth innings of a 14-6 Chicago victory. Final tally: five hit by pitches and 11 ejections. "Bottom line is, we won the game and we killed them," Chicago pitcher Jim Parque said. "I hope they have enough guys so we can beat them again."
Prelude to a Near No-No — Aug. 28, 2000
Pedro Martinez's bid for a no-hitter began with a brawl. Martinez began the game by hitting the leadoff hitter, Devil Rays outfielder Gerald Williams, who charged the mound and floored Martinez with a punch. Umpires ejected Williams but allowed Martinez to remain in the game. He ended up allowing a single in the ninth inning that broke up his no-hit bid.
Farnsworth's Slam — June 19, 2003
Reds starter Paul Wilson was trying to bunt when Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth threw a fastball high and tight. Wilson said something to Farnsworth, who charged toward home plate, flipped off his glove and slammed Wilson to the ground before landing a punch to the face. A pileup quickly ensued on top of the two pitchers.
Down Goes Zimmer — Oct. 11, 2003
During a Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens showdown in Game 3 of the ALCS, Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, 73, lunged toward the Red Sox right hander and ending up with a faceful of Fenway sod. Later in the game New York reliever Jeff Nelson and right fielder Karim Garcia got into a fight with a Fenway Park groundskeeper after he cheered for Boston in the Yankees' bullpen.
In Your Face — July 24, 2004
Red Sox captain Jason Varitek didn't appreciate Alex Rodriguez's staring down Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo after getting hit by a pitch. Varitek and A-Rod squared off, with Varitek shoving the Yankees star in the face. Both dugouts and bullpens emptied, and both players were ejected. The inspired Red Sox rallied to win the game on Bill Mueller's ninth-inning homer off Mariano Rivera.
The Sucker Punch — May 20, 2006
Cubs catcher Michael Barrett didn't take too kindly to being run over at the plate by his counterpart, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. After Pierzynski slapped home plate and got up, Barrett grabbed him and puched him in the jaw. "He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball' and then he punched me," Pierzynski said. "I was trying to pick up my helmet."
Shields Up — June 5, 2008
The ongoing feud between the Rays and Red Sox continued at Fenway Park when Tampa Bay's James Shields hit Boston's Coco Crisp in retaliation for Crisp's rough slide into a Tampa Bay player the previous night. Crisp charged the mound, and both players threw roundhouse punches that failed to do any damage. A bench-clearing brawl, resulting in three ejections, followed.
Greinke Breaks Collarbone — April 11, 2013
This exhibit of vigilante justice was on display in San Diego, when a fastball from the Dodgers' Zack Greinke veered inside and hit the Padres' Carlos Quentin on the left arm. A moment later, Quentin charged the mound, and soon both benches emptied in a brawl. Greinke suffered a broken collarbone and was out over a month. After the game, Matt Kemp confronted Quentin in a tunnel under the stadium (inset) before Padres pitcher Clayton Richard separated them.
Mattingly Joins the Fray — June 11, 2013
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks were involved in a heated brawl that involved players and coaches, including Don Mattingly taking down Alan Trammell. There were six ejections, stemming from a night in which Arizona's Ian Kennedy hit rookie Yasiel Puig in the face with a pitch and hit starter Zack Greinke with another high pitch.
Non-Homer Celebration Incites Brawl — April 20, 2014
Carlos Gomez's penchant for admiring his home runs has been known to rub opponents the wrong way. 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. 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.
Not Again Royals — April 23, 2015
Tempers flared when Yordano Ventura fielded a ground ball from Adam Eaton in the bottom of the seventh inning and appeared to mouth profanities at him as Eaton jogged down the first base line. Later on in the ensuing scrum, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Samardzija fought. Both players were ejected, as were Ventura, the Royals' Edinson Volquez and White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, who was repeatedly restrained by both Royals staff members and his own teammates. The A's and Royals were involved in a benches-clearing altercation of their own on April 17 after Oakland's Brett Lawrie slid hard into Royals second baseman Alcides Escobar, which led to several plunkings and two more bench-clearings in the final two games of the weekend series.
Bautista Bat Flip Retaliation? — May 15, 2016
Sunday afternoon was apparently alright for fighting in Texas, as the Rangers and Blue Jays got into a benches-clearing brawl in the eighth inning of their series finale, a 7–6 win for the Rangers. The donnybrook, triggered by a hard, overaggressive slide into second base by Jose Bautista, was a true scrap, featuring Texas second baseman Rougned Odor landing a solid right cross on Bautista’s face and ejections galore—and the promise of some serious suspensions in the aftermath. But the roots of Sunday’s dustup likely go back to last October, when Bautista bat flipped his way into the Rangers’ ire.