CINCINNATI — Reds fans waiting for Yasiel Puig’s bat to catch fire at least saw the first burst of smoke from their new outfielder Sunday.
But it might cost Puig another suspension after leading the Reds’ charge and sparking a bench-clearing incident with their longtime beanball buddies, the Pirates.
The former Dodgers outfielder got a two-game suspension and undisclosed fine last season after a similar incident in a Dodgers-Giants game in August.
Angry after fouling off a pitch he thought he should have smashed out of the park, Puig exchanged heated words with Giants catcher Nick Hundley and pushed him. Hundley shoved back and both teams sprinted out of the dugouts toward home plate.
"When I missed the pitch, I knew that was the best pitch he (Tony Watson) was going to throw me, so I was a little upset," Puig said after the game. "Hundley told me to stop complaining and get back into the box, and when I got into his face, he told me to also get out of his face, so that's when I got upset.”
Puig and Hundley were ejected but only Puig was suspended. Puig appealed but lost.
A similar punishment might be in store after Puig charged into a crowd of Pirates and tried to grab bench coach Tom Prince in a headlock before being pulled away.
It was a minor scrum, even by baseball standards, best described in a tweet as a battle of mustard and ketchup bottles, befitting their bright yellow and red jerseys.
That Pirates Reds brawl looks like a bunch of ketchups fighting a bunch of mustards pic.twitter.com/ZZC8wxX2wK
— Jimbo (@jimbro83) April 7, 2019
It all started with Derek Dietrich standing at home plate to admire the first of two home runs – a 436-foot blast – as it cleared the ballpark and landed in the Allegheny River. Pirates pitcher Chris Archer took exception and threw behind Dietrich’s back the next time he came up.
Archer later said he was “trying to go in” and “missed my spot.”
But the Reds weren’t buying it, especially with the history of beanballing between these two teams.
“When people watch the ball go far away or do bat flips, like I do before, in the next (at-bat) try to strike out the guy,” Puig said after calming down in the clubhouse. “Don’t try to hit the guy, because we can’t defend you back, because we can’t hit you with a bat or nothing.”
Manager David Bell was actually first off the Reds bench, charging at umpire Jeff Kellogg after Kellogg gave Archer a warning. Bell said he wanted Archer kicked out of the game.
“It’s just completely unacceptable for anyone to try to intentionally hurt one of our players,” Bell said. “It’s that simple. And it was obvious.”
Just as obvious as the fact that the Pirates and Reds have been throwing at each other on purpose for many years.
Their feud resulted in a fractured right thumb to third baseman Eugenio Suarez last season when Jameson Taillon hit him with a 94-mph fastball. Coincidentally or not, Suarez had five RBI on the previous day - including a two-run single in the sixth inning and three-run homer in the eighth – to lift the Reds to a 7-4 come-from-behind win.
Suarez missed 16 games because of his injury.
Other memorable beanball incidents between the Pirates and Reds include:
- May 12, 2016: Four Pirates, two Reds were hit by pitches. Reds reliever Ross Ohlendorf and manager Bryan Price were ejected. Kellogg, the home-plate ump in Sunday’s game, was behind the plate for that one, too.
- Aug 2, 2015: In the top of the eighth, Reds reliever Pedro Villarreal hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen square in the back. Watson responded by drilling Brandon Phillips. Both benches and bullpens emptied, followed by the usual jawing and shoving. Joey Votto and Pirates Sean Rodriguez and Marlon Byrd were ejected, and Pittsburgh's Mark Melancon was thrown out of the game for drilling Tucker Barnhart in the ninth.
Reds fans might think the Pirates have been the blatant aggressors in the beanball wars between the two teams, but not so.
In the last six seasons (2013-2018), Reds pitchers hit 67 Pirates batters and Pirates pitchers hit 61 Reds batters. That averages over one HBP per game.
At its craziest, in 2016, Reds pitchers plunked 20 Pirates and Pirates pitchers plunked 10 Reds. That’s 30 batters hit by pitch in 19 games. No coincidence there.
Sunday’s game saw Puig and Bell ejected along with Reds pitcher Amir Garrett and Pirates pitchers Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez.
It was the Reds’ eighth straight loss since their Opening Day victory. But if that keeps a fire lit under Puig (hitting .133 with no homers and nine strikeouts in 30 at-bats) and the whole team (hitting .170, last in MLB), it would be worth it.
By the way, the Pirates come to GABP on May 27-29.