The end of the baseball season is rapidly approaching, which means that teams are fighting for their futures in the playoffs. Players aren’t just tired from having played nearly 150 games, but if their team is on the edge of the playoffs, they’re on edge as well. In other words, it’s the perfect recipe for a late-season brawl. But you wouldn’t expect a brawl to break out over a compliment, right?
According to Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, that’s nearly what happened on Monday night during the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays.
It was the top of the ninth, and the game was a close 3-2 with the Blue Jays leading. They were just one out from getting the win at Rogers Centre, and their trusty closer Roberto Osuna was on the mound. Steven Souza was at the plate, the last hope for the Rays. The crowd was ready for the Blue Jays to win, and so were the Blue Jays. But Souza almost spoiled it. He smashed the 2-2 pitch from Osuna and stood there watching it. Even Rays manager Kevin Cash thought it was a home run. From Topkin’s piece in the Tampa Bay Times:
“I raised my hands — I thought it was a homer,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “If the camera caught me, I probably looked like a moron. But that’s okay, I’m good at doing that.”
Heh. At least Cash has a sense of humor about it, which is great because the ball didn’t leave the park and was actually caught on the warning track to end the game.
This is where things get weird. Souza heard catcher Russell Martin say something to him, and since Souza had taken some time to admire what ended up being a flyout, he thought Martin was criticizing him. But that’s not what started things. Here’s what Souza said to Topkin:
“I thought Russ was saying something about it, which would have been on me, totally,” Souza explained. “And I was saying, ‘Dude, I’m sorry, I thought I got it.’
This is the most important part of this really strange story: Steven Souza knew he’d looked at his non-homer too long, and was more than willing to accept any criticism or ribbing that Russell Martin had to offer. But Martin wasn’t criticizing Souza at all. In fact, he was actually confirming Souza’s reaction! Here’s more of what Souza said to Topkin:
There was miscommunication in that he actually said, ‘I thought you got it.’ And so I said, ‘Oh, my bad,’ and walked away. But then Troy decided to jump in and say some things that weren’t really necessary.”
This really was just a misunderstanding between two players in a loud ballpark… Until Troy Tulowitzki inserted himself in the situation, that is. What Tulo thought he saw was one of his teammates getting lip from a member of the opposing team who had embarrassingly admired a flyout, and so he zoomed in immediately to help (or “help”). From Souza’s perspective, the misunderstanding was resolved and everything was fine until this loud, raving shortstop got into his face for no reason.
We have no idea what Tulowitzki said to Souza, but we know he wasn’t giving out compliments. Souza said that Tulo’s comments were “below the belt,” but he declined to describe any further. For his part, Tulowitzki didn’t talk to the media at all, so whatever he was yelling in Souza’s face will probably stay between them and all the dudes on the field.
There’s really no way this could have been prevented. The ballpark was extremely loud and all Tulowitzki had to go on were the faces and body language between Martin and Souza. For this situation to turn out differently, either the ballpark had to be quieter (not likely with the playoff hunting Blue Jays getting a win at home), or Troy Tulowitzki needed to not be himself (that’s definitely not likely).
The fight was broken up and no punches were thrown, so Souza has no hard feelings.
“They’re trying to win a pennant, I’m not going to hold it against him,” he said. “Competition’s flaring, close game. Stuff like that is going to happen. He’s just trying to protect his teammates.”
That’s a remarkably thoughtful and understanding response given what happened. I’m not sure a lot of other players would react that way if Tulowitzki had tried to yell their faces off over a misunderstanding.
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