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Reds-Bucs tensions boil over into wild melee

@adamdberry
July 31, 2019

CINCINNATI -- Tempers once again flared between the Pirates and the Reds on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park, when one high-and-tight pitch led to a hit-by-pitch and eventually an all-out brawl in front of Pittsburgh’s dugout during the ninth inning of the Bucs’ 11-4 win at Great American

CINCINNATI -- Tempers once again flared between the Pirates and the Reds on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park, when one high-and-tight pitch led to a hit-by-pitch and eventually an all-out brawl in front of Pittsburgh’s dugout during the ninth inning of the Bucs’ 11-4 win at Great American Ball Park.

By the time it was all over, Reds bench coach Freddie Benavides and six players -- including Yasiel Puig, whose trade to the Indians, according to MLB.com sources, was agreed upon not long before the fracas began -- had been ejected, Reds manager David Bell (who was previously ejected) had been wrestled to the ground by Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein after charging Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, and nobody seemed convinced that this drama was actually over at all.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it sparks up again. We don't take lightly to what happened tonight and the way that they acted,” Bucs starter Joe Musgrove said. “The guy that's running their team over there is the ringleader. You saw him come out and go right after our manager after being ejected. Who knows what’s going to happen down the line, but we definitely expect something to happen at some point. We’ll be ready for it.”

There has been tension between the two National League Central rivals for years, all of which seems to be centered around purpose pitches and plunkings, but this particular incident dates to their April 7 matchup at PNC Park. That afternoon, Chris Archer threw a pitch behind Derek Dietrich, sparking a benches-clearing incident, after Dietrich hit a home run and paused to admire it as the ball sailed toward the Allegheny River.

On Tuesday, Dietrich stepped into the box with two out in the seventh inning and Pirates reliever Keone Kela on the mound. Kela’s first pitch to Dietrich was a 97-mph fastball that whizzed over his head, then Kela threw three more pitches to strike out Dietrich. Kela appeared to say something to Dietrich as he walked back toward the Pirates' dugout.

“I’m going to tell you the truth. The reason I went up and in was strictly, one, to show my intent with my pitch and to pretty much let Dietrich know that I didn’t necessarily agree with the way things went down,” Kela said. “Of course, people could say it was overdue. At the end of the day, this is baseball and I have to protect my teammates, and I have to do what I feel is right. Not only that, you have to pitch in. That’s part of this game. The day that we’re not allowed to pitch in is the day that the game of baseball forever changes. I was just doing my part. It is what it is.”

Dietrich disagreed.

“No place for that, obviously. Obviously, it was intentional. It was up near my head,” Dietrich said. “Nobody ever wants to see that. I don’t see anybody on our team ever doing something like that. We don’t play like that. We don’t pitch like that. We’ve never thought like that. They do obviously. I think it’s clear to see that. They made that evident. He’s a Pittsburgh Pirate, so they go in that bunch, every last one of them. It’s unfortunate, of course.”

Neither Kela’s pitch nor his reaction sat well with the Reds, and Joey Votto made that clear by shouting at Pittsburgh’s bench between innings. At that point, crew chief Larry Vanover warned both dugouts.

“Clearly, from our perspective, we weren’t happy with how things transpired,” Votto said.

Dietrich said Kela’s “reputation speaks for himself,” referencing the fact that Kela was suspended by the Pirates for two games following a clubhouse altercation. In 11 games against the Pirates this season, Dietrich has hit seven home runs and been hit by one pitch (on May 27) in addition to the ball Archer threw behind his back.

"He threw it up at his head," said Bell, who was ejected in the eighth inning for arguing balls and strikes. "It doesn't surprise us. It's been happening all year. I say it doesn't surprise us. But I can't tell you how disappointing that it's been going on, and nothing's been done about it.”

In the ninth, Reds reliever Jared Hughes -- a former Pirate -- hit center fielder Starling Marte in the rear end with a first-pitch fastball. Hughes said “that ball just slipped,” but Hughes was ejected for the first time in his career and Benavides (the acting manager) along with him. The Pirates understood it was retribution for Kela’s up-and-in pitch and hoped it was the end of the night’s drama.

“Were we wrong in the beginning of the game? Of course. Were they in the wrong for retaliating? Maybe not,” Pirates starter Trevor Williams said. “The unwritten rules are so gray. How it ended up today was extremely unfortunate. It’s not good for baseball, it’s not good for the fans. It’s not good for anybody.”

Hughes was replaced by left-hander Amir Garrett. According to several Pirates players, the first thing Garrett did when he took the mound was look directly at Josh Bell and say, “[Expletive] you.”

That didn’t go over well with the Pirates.

"It seems like every time Amir gets on the field, he's looking to fight, not looking to play baseball,” Musgrove said. “It was extremely uncalled for. The way he went about it, I think, was extremely wrong.”

Pirates players, including Williams, began jawing at Garrett. Williams said they were just trying to defend their teammate. Garrett said he didn’t know why they were chirping at him.

“A lot of guys act tough,” Garrett said. “Maybe it was the heat of the game.”

The back-and-forth continued until Garrett, in the middle of a conversation with coach Jeff Pickler, left the mound and charged the Pirates’ dugout. Garrett threw a punch at Williams, and a five-minute melee ensued.

"I don't condone what I did. It's not in the game for something like that to happen,” Garrett said. “Sometimes, you let emotions get the best of you. I don't condone that. I don't like for kids to see that in the baseball environment. Baseball is fun.

"The violence shouldn't be in there. At the end of the day, it about protecting your teammates, protecting yourself. Emotions got the best of me.”

During the scrum, David Bell charged back onto the field toward Hurdle -- only to be intercepted and taken down by Eckstein. At one point, Hurdle, who turned 62 years old on Tuesday, was knocked to the ground.

“I’ve been swallowed up before, but it’s been a long time,” Hurdle said. “I’ve got two fake hips. I don’t have a solid foundation. I’ve been down on the ground before. And I’ve gotten back up.”

In the end, Garrett and Puig were ejected. So were Williams, Archer, Kyle Crick and injured catcher Francisco Cervelli. David Bell, Musgrove and Kela were among the players who returned to the field to join the fracas. And in the middle of it all was Puig, just minutes after reports surfaced that he had been traded to the Indians.

“It’s the best fight I’ve probably been in as a member of a team,” Dietrich said. “I mean, I’ve seen trades happen. As far as it happened as the fight was going on, and I’m thinking like, ‘Dude, what are the Indians thinking right now? What’s going on? This is probably crazy that this is happening. He’s getting traded.’"

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.