By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Once Joe Kelly plunked Tyler Austin in the back with a 97.7 mph heater, the debates about baseball’s unwritten rules were guaranteed to be raging through the night. From spikes-up slides, to the number of chances a pitcher gets for retaliation, to the location of the pitch itself, to who’s wrong and who’s right, the hooting and hollering can often be overwhelming.
But outside of all of those arguments, there is this strange quirk about the entire matter: The man at the center of it all didn’t really want it to happen.
Yes, while so many people seem intent on arguing about the dirtiness or lack thereof regarding Austin’s spikes-up slide into Brock Holt’s leg, there was nothing Holt did in response that really warranted the benches to even clear once, let alone twice.
Here’s what’s not really up for debate: Holt stretched to receive a throw from Rafael Devers on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Tyler Wade. With the speedy Wade running to first, the Red Sox had no chance of turning it into a double play. Austin slid as if a double play remained a possibility, which is his right. But in the process, rather than just sweeping his leg through Holt while keeping his toes pointed away from his own head, Austin let his spikes lead the way.
Now — and this is a little bit of inside baseball here — it does actually feel lousy to have metal spikes scrape across your leg when they’re attached to the foot of a 220-pound man running at full speed. To use an official medical term, it’s a major ouchy. As you might expect, Holt didn’t enjoy the sensation in his lower leg, especially considering he had a zero percent chance of even thinking about turning a double play.
So, Holt told Austin that the slide was B.S., plain and simple, as was his right. Holt admitted later that he “said something I probably shouldn’t have said ,” and Austin didn’t have to like it. But Austin also didn’t have to stand there and posture in front of Holt as if there was going to be a throwdown showdown at second base in the third inning.
Yet emotions occasionally run high, and some guys get REALLY mad when you M.F. them in front of a crowd, so Austin stepped to Holt to offer a thoughtful rebuttal. Baseball being baseball, the dugouts and bullpens “cleared,” which really just forces a bunch of relievers to take a jog that they really don’t want to take. And because of that escalation, the tension lingered all the way up until Kelly threw two fastballs at Austin and the real fight began.
(Side note: It didn’t look like Austin really wanted that fight to materialize, either. He was understandably angry and in pain after getting hit in the square of his back, but he slowed himself from fully charging the mound after smashing his bat. Problem was, Kelly was ready for a brawl and offered a direct invite to “come on,” at which point Austin felt compelled to accept the challenge.)
And as a result of the big ballyhoo at the ballyard, a lot of people are chiming in with a lot of opinions. Some of those opinions focus on Holt, as if Holt did something wrong. But, outside of maybe uttering a word that’s not for print after getting spiked in the leg, Holt did nothing wrong.
“I just told him – well I probably said something I shouldn’t have to start the whole thing, so I’m sorry for that,” Holt said after the game, which the Yankees won. “But I just wanted him to know it was a bad slide. And I think everyone on the field knows that it was. And I think he knows that now too.”
Did Holt expect anything at all to happen after he confronted Austin?
“I didn’t. I didn’t. I thought it was over. We’re not trying to fight those guys over there. They’re big,” Holt said. “So I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. Something did happen, and it escalated quickly.”
Another hotly contested debate on the internet — fueled in part thanks to people like Jon Heyman, who last year argued that MLB should have forced the Red Sox into an unprecedented forfeiture of victories over the dumbest instance of “cheating” in the history of sports — had to do with the cleanliness or dirtiness of Austin’s slide. But even Holt isn’t arguing one way or another on that; he just doesn’t want to get spiked when he’s not even trying to turn a double play.
“I don’t think it was intentional,” Holt said. “I think he was going in hard. It was a bunt. I’m not going to turn a double play on that play, especially with Wade running. So we’re trying to get the lead out. I think he was just going in hard, but he went in hard a little late and with the spikes up. So it happened, and we’ll move on. … New rule or no new rule, we know how to get out of the way. And on that play I’m stretching like a first baseman to get the lead out, and then I have someone sliding into my leg. That’s not one of the plays where you’re expecting someone to come after you, but we are protected now. But like I said, I think he was just going in hard – he just messed up.”
It really was that simple. After Holt impolitely told Austin to keep his spikes down, Austin really should have responded in kind with a choice word or two while beginning his trot to the dugout. Had that happened, it would have been a very minor, buried issue. Instead it ballooned into a major blowout, which Holt never really intended.
Holt said he wanted nothing to do with fighting the Yankees — “They got a pretty big team over there.” — and he’s certainly telling the truth. Look at this man:
If he were so inclined, Giancarlo Stanton could pick that man up and use him as his baseball bat. Brock Holt knows that.
But of course, the fracas happened, and the “RIVALRY-RENEWING BAD BLOOD” could continue. Suspensions will come from this. Looking ahead, perhaps the Yankees throw at a Red Sox player on Thursday night, or if they’re wiser about it, they’ll wait until a rematch later in the season — probably one that’s held in the Bronx. Holt laughed and said he’ll unlikely be the target of any vengeful retaliatory pitch (he recorded his first hit of ht year Wednesday to skyrocket his average to .077, and that’s a year after hitting .200 for the 2017 season).
But if Holt does get plunked? He’ll do what Austin should have done after being told to maybe not spike stationary baseball players.
“If I am [hit by a pitch], I’ll take my base,” Holt said. “I don’t think they’re going to hit me, if they hit anyone. I don’t think I’m going to be the person that they’re going to come after. But if they do, you wear it, you take your base. So hopefully we don’t fight anymore.”
A message sent, but no fights. That’s all Brock Holt really wanted to happen in the first place.