DETROIT -- A back-and-forth of hit-by-pitches dating back to last month ignited a trio of benches-clearing confrontations Thursday afternoon between the Tigers and Yankees, starting with Jose Cabrera and Austin Romine throwing punches at each other and winding up with Alex Wilson and Todd Frazier gesturing at each other.
Five players, both managers and a bench coach were ejected over the course of a four-hour, 13-minute game at Comerica Park that ended with a 10-6 Tigers victory. Four players were hit by pitches. Cabrera was not, but a pitch behind his back and the ensuing reaction from both sides sparked the biggest incident of the afternoon.
It was an ugly ending to what was a getaway-day game between the teams to culminate a three-game series.
"You don't want to see that," Cabrera said. "You don't want to see people … hit in the head. You don't want to see fights on the field. But people have to understand we're human, and sometimes with the heat of the game, when people throw at you with 97 [mph] right at your wrist, you react sometimes."
Tensions between the two teams began July 31 at Yankee Stadium. Michael Mahtook was hit by a Tommy Kahnle fastball off his helmet, but Kahnle made it clear later in the inning that the pitch wasn't intentional. The next inning, Michael Fulmer hit Jacoby Ellsbury, prompting warnings to both benches. No further incidents happened the remainder of that series.
Both Fulmer and Kahnle pitched Thursday. Fulmer, the Tigers' starter, hit Gary Sanchez with a 96-mph fastball on the hands in the fifth inning, one inning after Sanchez hit his fourth home run of the series.
Asked if he felt he was hit on purpose, Sanchez said to ask Fulmer.
"Nobody wants to get hit," Sanchez said.
Sanchez was clearly displeased as he slowly made his way to first base, while Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand and manager Brad Ausmus made their way to the mound to check on Fulmer, who returned from the disabled list last week following a bout of ulnar neuritis that left him struggling to get feeling on his pitches. He was shaking his hand as Sanchez went to first base.
"I want to throw a sinker down and in to Sanchez there, and I think I just got on the side of it too much, which basically stretched that nerve out," Fulmer said. "That the worst zap I've felt with that nerve."
An inning and a half later, Cabrera stepped to the plate against Kahnle, who struck out the first two batters of the sixth inning. Kahnle's first pitch to Cabrera went behind his back, prompting plate umpire Carlos Torres to eject Kahnle without a warning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was furious as he charged out to argue with Torres, leading to his ejection.
"Gary Sanchez has three home runs in three days, and Fulmer hits him on purpose," Girardi said. "It's further inside than the ball that missed Cabrera. No warning. And then Kahnle throws one inside to Cabrera, doesn't get hit and you throw him out of the game. So now they're judging intent. Well if you can't see that Fulmer clearly hit Sanchez on purpose, there's something wrong. I think it could have really been avoidable."
Once things seemed to have settled, Albertin Chapman entered to face Cabrera, who began jawing with Yankees catcher Austin Romine.
"They want to defend Gary Sanchez, so I was good with that," Cabrera said. "When [Romine] started arguing with the umpire, I say to Romine, 'Calm down.' And he said, 'I'm not … talking to you.' I said, 'Oh. Wow.' And he tried to act like he's tough and all kinds of stuff.
"So when I go back to home plate, I said, 'You have any … problem with me?' And he said, 'Why?' I said, 'Because I tried to calm down this, and you tried to act tough.' And he took off his mask like he wants to fight, so ... that's it."
Romine said he didn't say anything to Cabrera.
"He said, 'You have a problem with me?' and I said, 'This isn't about you,'" Romine said, "And then he pushed me. It felt like he wanted a confrontation there, and I just tried to defend myself the best I could."
Once they traded punches, the benches spilled. While several players -- including Romine's brother, Tigers utility player Andrew Romine, and Ausmus -- tried to separate the two, several side incidents broke out. Replays showed Sanchez appearing to punch Cabrera in the pile and Ausmus appearing to argue with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner.
"I was in the dugout, looked up and saw Romine rolling on the floor with the other guys," Sanchez said. "At that moment, just instinct takes over because you want to defend your teammate. That's your family out there. I don't know, everything happened so quick, it's a blur."
Said Cabrera: "He can do whatever he wants to. But if he wants to punch me again, it's got to be face to face."
Cabrera and Romine were ejected for what crew chief Dana DeMuth called overaggressiveness and fighting. Dixon Machado finished the at-bat, while Sanchez moved from DH to catcher.
Said Girardi: "Cabrera went after him. And you're going to throw my catcher out for protecting himself? Pay attention. Somebody's got to pay attention to what's going on. And then Brad Ausmus is going to say [something] to one of my players? I mean, come on Brad. What is that?"
Said Ausmus: "Brett Gardner, I've always liked the way he plays from the other side. He plays the game hard. He wasn't real happy with me. Emotions were running high. I wasn't real happy with him at the time. That's part of the baseball, unfortunately, at times."
One peacemaker seemed to be Victor Martinez, who was seen trying to calm down Sanchez. Martinez later was spotted in a dugout dispute with teammate Justin Verlander before being separated by Nicholas Castellanos.
Castellanos told reporters afterward that the issue was handled. Verlander did not comment, while Martinez was not seen in the clubhouse after the game.
Tempers flared again an inning later, when Yankees reliever Dellin Betances hit James McCann in the helmet with a 98-mph fastball, at that point in a 6-6 game. McCann was OK but furious, while Ausmus argued with Torres. After umpires conferred, Betances was ejected, as well as Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson.
"I threw [Betances] out," DeMuth said, "and that was to keep control of the game. The reason why it took a minute or so was because I wanted to get the players apart. Once I got Detroit going to their dugout and New York going to their dugout, then I informed him."
Said Betances: "That's the last thing I want to do. At that point, I felt like everything was over. Obviously, I was disappointed because it was a tie game and we're out here trying to fight for a playoff spot, and for me to get thrown out there, that shouldn't have happened. But at the same time, I know the umpires have got to do their job. It was not right."
Neither McCann nor Ausmus believed the pitch was intentional, they said afterward.
"At that point in the game, I don't think there's any reason for him to throw at me," McCann said. "Miggy had been thrown at, Sanchez had been hit. At least in my mind, I thought the retaliation was over. It's just unfortunate after warnings were given out."
Player Page for David Robertson replaced Betances and hit John Hicks on his hands a few pitches later, but it was deemed unintentional. Robertson stayed in the game, but the tensions still weren't over. The benches cleared once more in the top of the eighth inning after Alex Wilson, who finished the seventh inning, hit Todd Frazier in the left thigh with one out.
Wilson was ejected, as was Ausmus.
"At that point in the game, it was something that had to be handled," Wilson said.
Shane Greene, who ran in from the bullpen, went back there to warm up for a five-out save opportunity. He closed out the Tigers' win, but the lingering impact will be seen in the coming days.
With the Tigers out of contention, the two teams won't face each other the rest of the year. The next time they'll meet will likely be in the Grapefruit League, with their Spring Training facilities a little more than a half-hour apart in Florida.
"It was a messy day, plain and simple," Wilson summarized. "I don't know if there's another way to put it. I'm glad we came out on top, but it was a messy day overall."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.