PHOENIX - It’s not often a hockey fight breaks out at a baseball game.
But that’s exactly what happened Saturday night when Canada faced Mexico in a crucial game at the World Baseball Classic tournament.
Tensions boiled over in the ninth inning of Canada's 10-3 rout of Mexico after a Canadian player was hit by a pitch. The incident happened because the Mexicans were upset about Canada breaking an unwritten rule of baseball’s protocol guide: don’t rub it when you’ve got a big lead. But the rules of the World Baseball Classic mean that sometimes it’s necessary for teams to run up the score.
With Canada up 9-3 in the top of the ninth, Canada’s Chris Robinson bunted down third base for a hit. Despite being far ahead in the game, Canada was looking to make up crucial runs in case there’s a tiebreaker at the end of this round of the tournament. Canada must make up a lot of runs after losing its opening game 14-4 to Italy on Friday.
The bunt appeared to irk the Mexican players. Television replays showed Mexico third baseman Luis Cruz telling pitcher Arnold Leon to throw the ball at the next Canadian player up to bat, Rene Tosoni.
Leon obliged, throwing twice at Tosoni, but missing both times. Umpire Brian Gorman warned both teams and Tosoni began shouting at Leon.
The Mexican pitcher then promptly hit Tosoni in the back on his next pitch.
The verbal jousting escalated into a fight that included players such as centre fielder Tyson Gillies and reliever Jay Johnson exchanging punches with Mexican players.
Unlike most Major League Baseball bench-clearing incidents, there was real punching going on in this one. Some players even pulled the jerseys over the heads of their opponents – a classic hockey fight trademark.
"There's a point you got to stand up for yourself," said designated hitter Justin Morneau. "We got hit for playing the game, and that happens, but at the same time you got to stand up for yourself. You can't just get pushed around."
As the teams were separated, Canadian players began yelling at the stands after a fan threw a water bottle that hit pitching coach Denis Boucher in the head. The game had to be paused again when a fan threw a ball at Canadian first base coach Larry Walker, prompting Canadian manager Ernie Whitt to tell Gorman he would pull his team off the field if anything else was thrown.
Walker, a former Montreal Expo, said he held back Mexican star and Los Angeles Dodger slugger Adrian Gonzalez from joining the fight and tried to do the same with Mexican pitcher Alfredo Aceves. "I had a hold of him and I thought I saw Satan in his eyes," Walker said to laughter.
An announcer twice pleaded with the 19,581 fans at Chase Field to remain calm.
When the game resumed, Tosoni, Johnson and second baseman Pete Orr were ejected, while Leon, Aceves, Oliver Perez and Eduardo Arredondo were tossed from Mexico's dugout.
Whitt said none of his players were injured during the fight. "You can't hurt us Canadians," he quipped, but he hopes the fight will spark a change in the rules in determining a tiebreaker.
"There's got to be another method other than the scoring runs, running up the scoring on the opposing team. No one likes that. That's not the way baseball's supposed to be played."
Mexico manager Rick Renteria called the fight a misunderstanding and took blame for not making clear to his players what could happen if a team was trying to make up for lost runs at the tournament.
"I think when you get into the heat of the battle of playing the game, a lot of these guys are used to playing in their respective leagues or clubs, and when that happens in that moment, (Leon) just lost sight of it. That's all," said Renteria.
The Mexican players weren't made available for comment.
Canada's brawl caught the attention of hockey commentator Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada during Saturday's broadcast, approving of the spirited Canadian performance.
"Way to go, good Canadian boys, we gotta beat the Americans tomorrow (Sunday)."
The fight is under review by World Baseball Classic International's tech committee, made up of members of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association who were at the game.
Suspensions would have no effect on Mexico, which has no more games remaining in the opening round. If Canada wins against the United States, the team advances to the second round next week in Miami. Whitt said he hoped his team would take part in the review.
Fights are rarely seen in baseball, Morneau said, but they do happen.
"It's unfortunate," said Morneau. "Usually it's just words being said. There's not always punches thrown, or whatever it is. ... We'll start over again and hopefully it's a good, clean game, but you never know what's going to happen."