Blue Jays reflect on brawl with Yankees: ‘You just don’t want anybody to get hurt’

Luis Severino was ejected after he hit Justin Smoak with a pitch, but not before a second and much more spirited brawl broke out in the bottom of the second between the Blue Jays and the Yankees that left Joaquin Benoit limping off the field.

TORONTO — The most severe consequence of the brawl between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees at Rogers Centre Monday night was seen long after the game, as Blue Jays reliever Joaquin Benoit hobbled out of the building on crutches, unable to put weight on his left leg.

The club has yet to make Benoit’s injury status public, but it appears the crucial set-up man suffered significant damage to his left leg during the third inning melee. Considering the 39-year-old has a 0.38 ERA in 23.2 high leverage inning since joining the Blue Jays, his loss would be substantial.

Second baseman Devon Travis may have been hurt in the fracas, too, as he was lifted from the 7-5 Blue Jays loss in the top of the sixth inning with a shoulder injury. The Blue Jays leadoff hitter wasn’t made available to the media after the game, with club representatives promising an update sometime Tuesday. But considering the 25-year-old missed much of 2015—and the first 47 games of 2016—with a shoulder injury, the situation is definitely cause for concern.

Missing either player for any length of time would be a significant blow for a team currently mired in a tight post-season race with just six regular season games to play.

“It just escalated. We protected our guy. They protected their guy back. And we didn’t like it,” Blue Jay catcher Russell Martin said. “I thought it was over. But sometimes you don’t really know what the other guys are thinking. And then whatever happened, happened.”

It began in the top of the first inning when Yankees starter Luis Severino plunked Josh Donaldson on the left elbow with a 97-mph fastball in a 1-1 count. Before the pitch, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez took two glances at Donaldson, who was set up towards the innermost part of the batter’s box, and extended his index finger towards his left thigh, which is generally a call for an inside fastball.

Sanchez set up well inside, so much so that he was able to catch the ball after it hit Donaldson’s elbow. The Blue Jays third baseman quickly removed his elbow guard and took first base without complaint.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what their agenda was,” Donaldson said after the game when asked if he thought Severino hit him intentionally. “I can’t speak for the other team. I can’t speak for what they’re doing. I know the guy’s throwing 100 and it’s not good when balls are coming at you.”

Tensions continued to escalate in the top of the second when Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ threw his first pitch of the inning behind Chase Headley’s knees. Headley glared out to the mound before taking a long walk to collect his thoughts.

When Headley stepped back in, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin set up inside and Happ again directed a pitch toward Headley’s lower half, this time hitting him in the left buttock. Home plate umpire Todd Tichenor promptly issued warnings to both teams.

“I wasn’t trying to hit Chase but it happened. They can say whatever they want to say,” Happ said. “Nobody is trying to hurt anybody but balls get away from guys, and balls get away from me, as it did tonight. That’s part of the game.”

Headley was incensed, and Martin got in between the Yankees third baseman and Happ as the dugouts and bullpens emptied. Most players loitered quietly once they were on the field, with the exception of Donaldson and Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who directed expletives at each other through the crowd.

“I’ve never talked to the guy in my life. I don’t know why he was yelling at me,” Donaldson said of Sabathia. “He was saying a bunch of stuff. I don’t recall anything too specific. I just don’t know why he was yelling at me. … I was just getting in front of Happ because I didn’t want anything to happen to him.”

The rest of the half inning transpired without incident, but Severino began the bottom of the second by throwing a 99-mph fastball inside to Justin Smoak, who had to bend over to avoid being hit by the pitch. Tichenor immediately grabbed for his mask and began walking towards Severino, but ultimately chose to brush the plate with his foot and do nothing more.

Smoak stared at Severino intensely between pitches, and when he re-entered his batter’s box Severino barrelled a 99-mph fastball into his left calf. That brought Tichenor back out from his crouch and this time he ejected Severino from the game as both teams sprinted onto the field.

“After the first pitch, I knew what they were doing,” Smoak said. “You would think after the first pitch he threw at me with warnings on both teams he would have automatically been gone. But he wasn’t. So, then, everything happened.”

The ensuing melee took several minutes to calm down, with several confrontations taking place at different junctures of the crowd. Donaldson and Sabathia found one another and continued their earlier conversation. Travis and Kevin Pillar charged into the middle of the pile, pushing and shoving any Yankee they could find.

“After they missed (Smoak) the first time, I thought we were just going to play baseball. They decided to hit him. And your emotions take over,” Pillar said. “But I guess I leaned back on some experiences from earlier in the year and realized that in that moment it’s not worth it.

“We’re playing for something bigger. They’re not really playing for much. You’re not going to not go out there and defend your guy. But, to take it to the level where normally I would take it to—thinking about the big picture crept into my head. I know what the suspension is for fighting. And I can do math. And I knew this wasn’t worth it. So, I wanted to be out there for (Smoak’s) defence. But, really, this time I tried to play peacemaker, because we’re playing for something bigger than what happened today.”

Jason Grilli found his way to the middle of the pack as well and yelled at his opponents, while Martin and fellow catcher Gary Sanchez attempted to square up with one another as teammates stood in between them. Martin taunted Sanchez throughout, pointing at the Yankees catcher and then to himself, saying, “let’s go, you and me, let’s go.”

“That’s just kind of the unwritten rules of baseball. You hit one of our guys, our MVP guy, after that sometimes the ball slips out of the pitcher’s hand,” Martin said of the escalating hit batters. “Words were exchanged. Guys were fired up. That’s usually what happens when the benches clear.”

One of the more violent confrontations involved Smoak, Travis and New York outfielder Tyler Austin, who was one of the first Yankees to arrive on the scene. Austin grabbed Smoak, who was trying to get at Severino, and ended up getting spun around and bent over at the waist as Travis dragged him forward and Smoak fired an uppercut left in his direction. Austin ended up with a bright red abrasion under his right eye.

“Everything happened so quick,” Smoak said. “I just remember being in the middle of it. I don’t know what happened.”

When the dust settled, the Yankees were the only team to suffer ejections, with manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and bench coach Rob Thomson all being thrown out along with Severino. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays suffered the much more severe blow of possible injuries to Travis and Benoit.

“I’m not too worried about suspensions or anything like that,” Martin said. “You just don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

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