LOS ANGELES – Mark McGwire's fists were filled with as much as he could grab of Matt Williams' jersey, with Matt Williams still in it.
His face was red. His words were blue. We can assume spittle.
Swarming the pair of coaches raged a pretty fair brawl, as far as baseball brawls go. The Arizona Diamondbacks, first place in the NL West, and Los Angeles Dodgers, last in the West, threw pitches at each other twice, perhaps three times, maybe more, on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. The benches and bullpens were twice hastily vacated, and punches and invectives were thrown. Six, including Dodgers’ 22-year-old Yasiel Puig, struck in the face earlier with an Ian Kennedy fastball, were ejected.
As a result, the Diamondbacks remained in first place, the Dodgers in last, and the enduring image is of two guys about a decade into retirement, approaching 50, locked in a white-knuckled, foaming embrace.
It was sad, actually. But, then, these things always are. The last time the Dodgers engaged in such behavior, Zack Greinke left the game – and a month of the season – with a broken collarbone. He also was at or near the center of controversy again Tuesday, when shortly after Puig was hit with a pitch, Greinke hit Arizona catcher Miguel Montero in the back with a fastball. The resulting welt was just left of center cut. A half-inning later, Kennedy hit Greinke high on the shoulder, which is when 50 players plus some of the Dodgers’ disabled list met near the Diamondbacks’ dugout.
By the end, five batters were hit by pitches, three of them Dodgers, and everyone decided the other guys were at fault.
“I’m sure they’ll accept no culpability at all,” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said.
"I just thought it was B.S.," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It really should have been over at Montero."
[Video: Watch the brawl in its entirety]
Two issues come immediately to mind.
First, two players – Puig and Greinke – were hit in the head (Puig) or very near the head (Greinke). Kennedy, who led the National League in hit batters last season and does again in this one, said both were unintentional. The fastball that hit Puig, batting close to .500 and lately the best part of the Dodgers' offense, was perhaps intended to move him off the plate. The fastball that hit Greinke, who by then had hit Cody Ross in the fifth inning and Montero in the seventh, was far more suspicious.
"What he did to Miggy was obvious," Kennedy said.
He added he threw inside to Greinke, "To send a message. Not to hit the guy."
Again, he said, "I didn't think it was right what he did to Miggy."
Second, league rules allow players on the disabled list to be in the dugout, but they "may not enter the field of play at any time during the game." In the fray, it appeared at least a couple players from the Dodgers' long disabled list joined their active brethren on the field.
"It got pretty ugly," Montero said. "Everybody came out of nowhere throwing punches and punches. It was like 25 against 72. All their DL guys were out there, too."
From the moment Kennedy's pitch deflected off Greinke's front shoulder to the moment order was restored, about 10 minutes passed. Kennedy and Gibson were ejected in the opening seconds, as plate umpire Clint Fagan immediately determined Kennedy hit Greinke on purpose. McGwire, Puig and Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario were ejected. Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward, whose greatest transgression appeared to be nearly getting flipped over the railing and into the dugout by Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell, was ejected.
Crew chief Larry Vanover said McGwire was banished for "instigating," Puig for "instigating too," Belisario for "being out of control," and Ward for "being aggressive."
Vanover would file a report with the league.
"That doesn't mean that other people won't get fined," umpire Brian Gorman said. "The league will look at video as well.
"It's difficult when you get so many people over by the railing. We can't surround the situation. We can only be on one side of it, because it's up against the dugout. That's kind of why the league probably will pull up video. If someone was being an aggressor that we didn't see, I'm sure there will be ramifications."
That left everyone with their own reality, their own moral high ground, and the Dodgers with a 5-3 win. The Dodgers had protected their prized rookie, Puig, who'd spent several minutes in the dirt, dabbing at his cheek and nose with help from the team's trainers. He was able to continue, and took first base."We knew at some point somebody was going to try to knock him down," said catcher Tim Federowicz, whose three-run double in the eighth inning brought the Dodgers back. "They say it wasn't intentional. You hit a guy in the face, we take it personally."
And the Diamondbacks had protected themselves from what they viewed as unprovoked aggression. The Dodgers, of course, viewed it as retribution, and entirely provoked.
"They were just mad," Gibson said. "I didn't order anything."
In a flash, Mattingly was at the plate, where he snapped at Montero. Later, he and Diamondbacks coach Alan Trammell tangled, and Trammell ended up on his back. Men on both sides grabbed, and shouted, and shoved, and a few threw mostly inaccurate punches.
Suspensions are coming. Fines are coming. These are the fresh realities for the first-place Diamondbacks, who didn't need to unbalance a good thing, and the Dodgers, who've got enough problems already.
The Diamondbacks and Dodgers play 11 more times into mid-September, including the series finale here Wednesday night. There is no predicting the coming months, how the suspensions might play, and how a single night of misguided behavior might throw the division race.
But we probably can assume more spittle.