The Alamo was a fraternity party compared to what the White Sox and Texas Rangers did to each other Wednesday night.
The Sox and Rangers took time out from a perfectly mundane baseball game to square off in one of the nastiest, dirtiest brawls to hit the plains of Texas in quite a spell.
When it was all over, the Rangers delighted a crowd of 32,312 by coming from behind to knock out the Sox 5-2.
The win was almost a must for the third-place Rangers, who used it to climb back to 5 1/2 behind the division-leading Sox with one game yet to play in a suddenly ugly series.
Nolan Ryan started the free-for-all by drilling Robin Ventura on the right elbow with a fastball in the third inning.
Ventura was incensed. He took Ryan’s actions to be retaliation, plain and simple, for a series of incidents.
“If you know the game, it’s no secret what he was doing,” said Ventura, his elbow encased in an elastic brace. “If you don’t think he did it on purpose, you don’t know the game.”
Ventura’s reasoning is backed by some pretty solid circumstantial evidence.
In addition to that, Ventura was the logical target if Ryan wanted to retaliate against anyone. Ventura had singled in the first inning off Ryan to give the Sox a 1-0 lead.
Last year, Ryan was ejected from a game for the first and only time in his career after he threw at Willie Wilson, who had tripled off him.
Ventura had been hit on the same elbow just two weeks ago by Milwaukee’s Cal Eldred.
As soon as he was hit this time, Ventura grimaced in pain. He took a couple of steps toward first base, then thought better of it. Instead, Ventura took a sharp left turn, threw his batting helmet to the ground and charged Ryan.
Ryan locked Ventura in the kind of armlock usually reserved for branding steers and started flailing away with punches. Five roundhouse shots in a row landed on top of Ventura’s head.
“He gave me a couple of noogies on my head and that’s about all,” said Ventura.
Ryan was still swinging when a mass of humanity from both benches descended upon him.
“I’ve had a couple of confrontations in my career, but nothing of that nature,” said Ryan, who gave away 20 years to Ventura in the Battle of Arlington.
“All I know is I was on the bottom of the pile and it felt like their whole team was on top of me. In that situation, you’re totally at the mercy of your teammates.”
Texas coach Mickey Hatcher left the field with blood streaming down his face. He had a butterfly bandage on the wound in the clubhouse and said it was minor.
Usually mild-mannered Sox manager Gene Lamont was in the middle of things from start to finish and came out worse for the effort. Lamont had a trick knee go out on him when someone clipped him from the side.
To add insult to injury, Lamont was ejected from the game. So was Ventura.
But Ryan was allowed to stay and he pitched magnificently the rest of the night. He faced 13 batters and got 14 outs because he quickly got revenge for the fight by picking off Craig Grebeck, who had gone to first base to run for Ventura when things calmed down.
“I think he should have been thrown out of the game,” Lamont said of Ryan. “He hit Robin and he was the one throwing the punches. He should have been ejected, too.”
Lamont defended Ventura’s decision to charge the mound.
“Robin thought he was throwing at him and he did exactly what he should do,” said Lamont. “It’s strange that that was the only pitch that got away from him all night.”
And it was. Ryan (3-3) worked seven innings and gave up just two runs on three hits. It was his longest outing of the year and easily his feistiest.
Alex Fernandez (12-6) had his worst outing in more than a month.
“(The fight) didn’t bother me at all,” said Fernandez. “I thought I had Palmeiro struck out on the pitch before the home run. I only made one bad pitch and that was the double to Franco.”
That pitch was a lot more costly than the one bad one that Ryan made to Ventura.
Since this moment seems to be the main way people who aren’t White Sox or Mets fans and didn’t watch his record-breaking hitting streak at Oklahoma State in 1987 remember Robin Ventura, and is also one of the most famous moments in Rangers history outside of 2010, I thought I’d look up some things that provide context on it.
After Ventura charged him, Ryan had hit 158 batters, been ejected for it only once and been charged by a hitter three times-including Willie McCovey, and Dave Winfield as a San Diego Padre in 1980-Dave landed at least one punch. There is, I assume, no video of that fight, but the AP reported the game this way:
Cesar Cedeno drove in four runs as the Houston Astros defeated San Diego, 9-5, tonight in a game that saw Dave Winfield, the Padre star, ejected in a bench-clearing brawl.
Winfield watched two Nolan Ryan fastballs sail high and inside in the fourth inning before charging the mound and igniting a brawl that delayed the game 11 minutes.
Ryan had hit Ozzie Smith with a pitch in the third inning, and when Ryan’s second inside pitch sent Winfield sprawling in the fourth, he charged the mound.
The home-plate umpire, Jerry Dale, tried to restrain Winfield, but he landed a couple of blows to Ryan’s head as both benches emptied. Cedeno hit two nearly identical doubles down the third-base line in a game in which the Astros scored five runs in the fourth and four in the seventh.
The next time Ryan faced Winfield it was the 1985 All-Star Game, and he flattened Winfield with a high fastball.
Nolan said: “Dave threw a punch and then we wrestled to the ground. I decided then I wasn’t going to take it the next time it happened. I made up my mind after that that if anybody came out there, I wasn’t going to be passive about it. They are coming out trying to hurt you. You have to defend yourself. You can call it self-preservation.”
It’s no surprise that the White Sox weren’t happy after the game. Ellis Burks: “I hit two home runs off him in a game and the next time I faced him in Boston he started me off with a curveball for a strike. The next pitch was up and in and hit me in the head.” USA Today said when Burks came up against Ryan the next time, Ryan came in on him again, and Ellis tried to charge the mound, but catcher Geno Petralli stopped him.
Jack McDowell: “The whole world stops when that guy pitches, like he’s God or something. He’s been throwing at batters forever, and people are gutless to do anything about it. I was glad Robin went out. Someone had to do it. He’s pulled that stuff wherever he goes.
“Too bad he doesn’t show up for his team until the next time it’s his turn to pitch. He’ll be home on the ranch. You watch, his team will fall just short again while he shows up on the DL.”
Ryan, who tried to get at Black Jack in the post-noogie fracas, said: “He was mouthing off and I got tired of it. I don’t like to hear from someone who has three or four other people protecting him.”
Finally, Bo Jackson was with the White Sox in 1993, and the Chicago Tribune had an interesting note on his role in the brawl:
Bo Jackson didn’t have much of an impact in the game, striking out in his only at-bat as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning.
But he sure made a difference in the brawl between the White Sox and Rangers Wednesday night.
Just knowing Jackson was around had Texas players, coaches and even their team owner looking over their shoulders.
“I had ahold of somebody and I poked my head up and saw Bo running toward the pile,” said Ranger outfielder Donald Harris. “I quick poked my head back down and tried to stay out of the way.”
George W. Bush, general partner of the Rangers, was in a box seat near the Texas dugout when the brawl broke out and said he considered for a second running onto the field.
“I thought about it, but then I saw Bo coming out and decided to stay where I was,” said Bush.