10th anniversary: the Don Zimmer-Pedro Martinez fight

10 years ago today, one of the more unlikely and memorable bench clearing brawls happened. On Oct. 11, 2013, aged Yankees coach Don Zimmer charged ace Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez. It went about as well as you’d expect when a 72-year-old tries to fight a professional athlete.

It was Game Three of the ALCS between longtime rivals, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. With the series tied at one game apiece, the game was billed as a match up between two great pitchers: Yankees hurler (and former Red Sox standout) Roger Clemens versus Boston star Pedro Martinez.

Early on didn’t see much memorable pitching, though, as each team scored two runs in the first three innings. Then came the fourth, when all hell broke loose. Well, first hell just simmered for a bit, but then broke wide open.

The inning got off to a rotten start for Martinez. Each of the first three batters he faced reached, on a walk, single, and double. The Yankees had a 3-2 lead and two runners in scoring position for right fielder Karim Garcia.

Martinez’s first pitch to Garcia was a fastball right at his head. Garcia ducked down as fast as he could, but the ball nicked his helmet. Garcia wasn’t hurt—it barely got him—but he was steamed. While you could say that Martinez was just having a bad outing and wouldn’t intentionally load the bases on himself with no outs in such a big game, it’s also true that Martinez had a reputation. The year before he hit 15 batters while walking just 40 all year, for a rather odd 2.5:1 BB:HBP ratio. Yeah, that ain’t normal.

Garcia started screaming at Martinez. Some of the Yankees on the bench got involved, and Martinez gestured to his head. This was a challenge/threat for more pitches like the one he threw at Garcia. By now, the Yankees didn’t think that pitch was an accident. The players left the dugout, but never entered the field of play itself. The umpires managed to calm everything down before things got completely out of hand—for now. They issued warnings to both benches and crossed their fingers hoping that it would all blow over.

For a little while, it looked like it would blow over. No other fireworks went off that inning, and Martinez escaped allowing just one more run, for a 4-2 Yankees lead. But next was the bottom of the fourth, when the fun really began.

Leading off for Boston was the highly talented hitter Manny Ramirez. Roger Clemens threw a fastball high and inside to Ramirez. Yeah, that’s one way of describing it. The pitch was a fastball just north of Ramirez’s shoulder. It wasn’t that close to Ramirez’s face—he didn’t have to back away or anything—but in the atmosphere of the moment, it was close enough for Ramirez. He screamed at Clemens and began approaching the mound. Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez interceded, but again the benches cleared.

At first, it didn’t look like much. Players on both teams weren’t even doing the typical aimless shoving that makes up most base-brawls. They were mostly just trying to separate their guys to make sure no one got ejected.

But then something totally unexpected happened.

Away from the main pack was Pedro Martinez, walking on the field. Yankees coach Don Zimmer saw him, and clearly wasn’t worried about getting ejected. He went up to Martinez, the two briefly exchanged words, and then Zimmer charged Martinez, a man 40 years his junior.

As fights go, it barely qualifies. Martinez grabbed Zimmer and threw him on the ground. Everyone got in the way—players, umpires, and security officials. It wasn’t the ferocity of the fight that made it memorable, but the unexpected nature of it. A 72-year-old man charging someone? What is this—a Canadian Football League reunion? A 72-year-old charging a 32-year-old? On national TV? Bizarre.

The umpires didn’t eject anyone. They tend to be slow on the thumb in the postseason. Martinez pitched until the seventh and didn’t allow any more runs, but what he’d already allowed was enough for the loss, as the Yankees won, 4-3.

There was a weird epilogue. In the ninth, a fight broke out between a Red Sox groundskeeper and the Yankee bullpen. New York reliever Jeff Nelson didn’t like it when the groundskeeper cheered at one point, and a fight broke out. The groundskeeper was removed—after receiving spike wounds to his back and arm.

That was the rougher moment, but the memorable image was Martinez shoving Zimmer to the ground—and that image came 10 years ago today.

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Comments

  1. Jim G. said...

    Good article, Chris. I miss the anniversary lists. (The day-versaries, not so much.) Especially if you hit on something that didn’t get full explanation and gave the readers an opportunity to reminisce.

  2. Chris J. said...

    Jim – I miss them, too.  But they are so long to put together.  (Even now, when I can just cut’n’paste them for three-fourths of the year, it takes a while to do that, check to see if there are any new entries to add, fix links, bold some … it takes a while.  I figure they’ll come back eventually, just not for the time being).

  3. Joe Pilla said...

    Chris,
    I think picking one signature historical event on a given day, and riffing on it, as you did here, is terrific, especially when you do it as well as, well, you ALWAYS do.
    We’ll leave the day-versary minutiae for the obsessive-compulsives (which probably includes ALL of us, or we wouldn’t be here, eh?). wink

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