Shelley Duncan planted the seed. Wednesday afternoon he may have single-handedly created a rivalry.
The Tampa Bay Rays battled back to beat the New York Yankees 7-6 before 6,607 fans at Al Lang Field, but the buzz was what happened before the eighth out of the contest had been made.
Heath Phillips, a non-roster spring invitee, was starting in place of Andy Pettitte, who was an early scratch due to some tightness around his throwing elbow, and the soon-to-be 25-year old ran into trouble immediately.
Two runs had already crossed the plate and with two outs he clipped Evan Longoria with a high-and-tight fastball. Home plate umpire Chad Fairchild wasted no time in ejecting Phillips.
Manager Joe Girardi protested Phillips' ejection and both benches were warned only that was just the beginning.
Duncan, who had voiced his displeasure at the Rays playing hard-nosed baseball in spring training, insinuated to New York reporters there would be some sort of retribution for Elliot Johnson running over Francisco Cervelli Saturday at Steinbrenner Field. Cervelli, one of the Yankees' top catching prospects, broke his wrist.
In his first at-bat, Duncan lined a ball off Longoria's glove at third and rolled a short distance away. The Yankees' infielder headed to second with a mission despite the ball beating him to the bag by 20 feet.
Instead of pulling up and letting the tag take place, Duncan went into a slide, his spikes so high that one landed in the chest of Akinori Iwamura. The Rays' second sacker backed away, however, and Jonny Gomes sprinted in from right to tackle Duncan. Both benches cleared.
In the aftermath, Gomes and Duncan were tossed as were Yankees' coaches Kevin Long and Bobby Meacham, making it five ejections in less than an inning and a half.
Duncan tried to explain it away, saying that he was simply trying to knock the ball out of Iwamura's glove although not many were buying it.
Things settled down to simply playing baseball and after taking a 2-0 lead in the first, the Rays had to come back twice to pull the game out.
New York had five RBIs in the contest and they all came out of the five hole. Jorge Posada doubled with the bags full in the sixth and his replacement in the lineup, Brett Gardner, singled home a pair two innings later. A throwing error by Mike DiFelice complicated a double steal allowing Gardner to scamper home.
Ronnie Merrill, a player brought over from the Naimoli Complex for the game, belted a Daniel Giese pitch over the right-centerfield wall and Willy Aybar's sacrifice fly added another run in the seventh.
An inning later and trailing by a pair, Tampa Bay tagged reliever Jonathan Albaladejo (0-1) for three as two outfielders vying for roster spots made their mark on the outcome.
John Rodriguez knotted the game at six with a two-run double and he came around when Jon Weber added his own two base hit. It made a winner out of reliever Dan Wheeler (1-0) after the righty gave up three runs, two hits and gave up two walks the inning before.
NOTES: Brian Anderson is trying to bounce back from his second Tommy John surgery but took himself out of the game. After allowing two hits and on the third pitch to Bobby Abreu, he walked off the mound, talked with manager Joe Maddon and headed to the lockerroom ..... The time of the game was 3:32.
Ted Fleming, the owner/operator of TBSN
Radio 510, has been covering the sports scene in the Tampa Bay area for the last decade via the airwaves and in print. His radio show, Speaking of Sports, is syndicated by the Black Athletes Sports Network live from 11:00am to 1:00pm weekdays. He frequently discusses the Rays on his show. Additionally, he is a stringer for PA Sports Ticker