If there was any doubt that the saltiness had returned to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, it evaporated late Wednesday night when a 97-mph fastball from Boston reliever Joe Kelly found its intended target: Tyler Austin’s ribs.
Austin slammed his bat down, fired his helmet to the ground and charged after Kelly, and soon both benches and bullpens were empty.
It may not have quite matched Jason Varitek’s massaging Alex Rodriguez’s face with his glove, Lou Piniella’s flattening Carlton Fisk at the plate or Pedro Martinez’s throwing Don Zimmer to the ground, but it was still the signature moment in the New York Yankees’ 10-7 victory at Fenway Park.
It overshadowed Gary Sanchez’s busting out of a miserable 1-for-33 slump with two home runs, David Price’s leaving after an inning with what was labeled “a sensation” in his left hand and the Yankees’ bouncing back from a 14-1 thumping the previous night.
The brawl, which erupted in the seventh inning, marked a return to the type of animosity that had been largely absent from the rivalry in recent years — mostly because the teams have rarely been good at the same time.
But last season the Red Sox and Yankees finished atop the American League East for the first time since 2009 — and the Yankees, unable to chase down their rivals in the final weeks, had to stew over catching the Red Sox illegally using an Apple Watch to help relay stolen signs to their hitters.
“Typical Red Sox-Yankee game,” Boston shortstop Brock Holt said. “About four hours long and a couple of bench-clearing brawls. We’re right on track here.”
The seeds of Wednesday’s brawl were sown in the third inning when Austin slid late into second base and his spikes caught Holt, who had moved away from the base after receiving a throw from third baseman Rafael Devers.
It was a tame slide by old-school baseball standards, but since baseball reformed its slide rules in the wake of Chase Utley’s breaking Ruben Tejada’s leg with a hard slide in the 2015 playoffs, it was hard not to see it as over the line.
Holt and Austin exchanged words and the benches and bullpens emptied, but the situation quickly cooled and the game resumed.
“I probably said something I shouldn’t have to start the whole thing, so I’m sorry for that,” said Holt, whose calf was cut by Austin’s spikes. “I just wanted him to know that it was a bad slide, and I think everyone on the field knows that it was.”
Naturally, the Yankees disagreed.
Manager Aaron Boone said that while the slide may have violated the letter of the law, “to construe that as a dirty play or that you’d be offended by that, I don’t buy that at all.”
Austin, who was the Yankees’ designated hitter Wednesday night, struck out in his next at-bat against Heath Hembree in the fifth. At the time it looked like the Yankees, with an 8-1 lead, were on their way to a laugher.
But by the time Austin came to bat with one out in the seventh, the Red Sox were back in it. J.D. Martinez had belted a grand slam off Masahiro Tanaka to get the Red Sox within 8-6 in the fifth before the Yankees pushed another two runs across in the sixth to lead, 10-6.
Kelly retired Neil Walker to begin the seventh, then hit Austin with a 2-1 fastball.
As he charged the mound, Kelly waved, signaling for Austin to come get him. As they approached each other, Austin, who was being grabbed from behind by catcher Christian Vazquez, slipped and fell while trying to tackle Kelly, who landed a couple of punches on Austin.
Quickly, though, they were engulfed. Aaron Judge wrapped his arms around Kelly, and Giancarlo Stanton jumped to the center of the scrum as it veered toward the Red Sox dugout. The towering sluggers may have presented a more intimidating presence there than in the batter’s box.
“In a fight, in a brawl like that you could have a bunch of guys swinging, you could have guys picking guys out cheap shoting,” Stanton said. “Yeah, we’re a good presence but we’ve still got to have eyes in the back of our heads right there.”
As the scuffle continued, Austin charged into the center again and threw an overhand right that missed Kelly, who was still being held by Judge. The punch landed squarely on the head of Red Sox third base coach Carlos Febles. Eventually, Austin was pulled out of the maw and escorted back to the Yankees dugout by hitting coach Marcus Thames.
“I felt like it was intentional, and I didn’t want to let anybody push myself around or do anything like that,” Austin said. “That’s why I went out there.”
Austin and Kelly were ejected, along with Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin and reliever Tommy Kahnle. Nevin was irate when he found out he had been ejected, racing out to confront the umpires and pointing toward the Red Sox dugout. Kahnle was tossed for yelling at an umpire who tried to restrain him, according to Boone.
Injured Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia should also expect discipline for leaving the bench, which is prohibited for players on the disabled list. Sabathia pushed Devers and another Red Sox player to the ground.
The fracas drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd, which itself had a fight in the right field bleachers earlier in the game.
Once the field was cleared, players picked up their gloves and caps, and the game resumed. There were no other incidents and not much in the way of entertainment on the field until the ninth.
By the time the Red Sox came to bat in the final frame, with the game nearing the four-hour mark, much of the crowd had cleared out. But those who remained were quickly on their feet when Jackie Bradley Jr. greeted Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman with a single and Vazquez doubled off the Green Monster.
Chapman retired pinch-hitter Sandy Leon on a fly ball to shallow right and then struck out Mookie Betts with a full-count slider. That brought up Devers, who hit a game-tying, ninth-inning homer off Chapman last year at Yankee Stadium. But after a wild pitch allowed Bradley Jr. to score, Chapman blew a fastball past Devers.
It was the final punch out of the night — but perhaps not for the series, or the season.
“They feel like us,” said Vazquez, the Boston catcher. “The clubhouse is our home. Let’s protect our home. There will be something soon — if not this series, maybe in New York.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.