Over at BP, the staff looks at the 12 of their favorite basebrawls. Here’s a Yankee classic from Jay Jaffe:
1) Armando Benitez vs. Tino Martinez and the Yankees
At 28-9, the 1998 Yankees had already shown that they were in the business of kicking ass and taking names when the Orioles came to town having lost five straight games to push them under .500. The O’s were on track to snap their streak with a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning when the Yankees drew two walks while making two outs against tiring O’s starter Sidney Ponson and reliever Alan Mills. A Paul O’Neill single off Norm Charlton cut the lead to 5-4 when Benitez, the Orioles’ imposing but immature closer, was summoned for a four-out save. Instead, he served up a three-run homer to Bernie Williams to give the Yankees a 7-5 lead, then blatantly plunked Tino Martinez between the shoulder blades with a 90-something MPH fastball on his next pitch. “That was a real cheap shot,” said Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat.
Martinez jawed at Benitez on the way down to first base, and the 6-foot-4 reliever dropped his glove. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and things escalated when Yankees’ lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd—a 6-foot-8 Australian native my friends and I called “The Big Dingo”—came charging out of the bullpen and grabbed Benitez’s chin before throwing a few wild punches with fellow Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson joining the fray. Benitez connected on a blow to the back of Lloyd’s neck as he retreated from the mound into foul territory. As he neared the dugout, he squared off with Scott Brosius, who threw no punches but captured his attention while Darryl Strawberry rolled up behind and connected on a sucker punch to Benitez’s head before pushing him into the Oriole dugout. Strawberry was restrained by multiple Orioles at the edge of the dugout, but amazingly enough, the two would square off again minutes later after Mills punched Strawberry while an irate Martinez kept making his way towards Benitez. The second time, Stawberry’s blow was more glancing, and his momentum carried him into the dugout where Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken tried to calm him down. Ultimately, it took around 15 minutes before order was restored and play resumed.
“This is like one of those hockey brawls where the umpires have to figure out who stays and who goes,” said Yankees broadcaster (and former Oriole) Ken Singleton. “To a man, the Orioles refused to muster even feigned support for Benitez,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. “The action of ‘I’ll hurt you if I can’t beat you’ totally misrepresents the Baltimore Orioles’ tradition of good play and sportsmanship,” said manager Ray Miller in apologizing to the Yankees. Benitez drew an eight-game suspension while Strawberry and Lloyd (three games) and Mills and Nelson (two games) received suspensions as well. The Yankees went on to win 114 regular season games and the World Series while the Orioles were swept by the Yankees en route to a nine-game losing streak. They haven’t had a winning season since. —Jay Jaffe
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]