By: Will Burchfield
It started innocently enough, just another episode of baseball retribution.
Gary Sanchez had been hit by Tigers’ starter Michael Fulmer in the top of the fifth, so Yankees’ reliever Tommy Kahnle threw behind Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the sixth.
All even, right?
What followed was an all-out melee, the kind of benches- and bullpen-clearing brawl that has a way of feeling old-school. And that was just the beginning. There would be more hit batsmen, more caustic convergences, several more ejections.
It was all set off by Cabrera and Yankees’ catcher Austin Romine, who got into a verbal dispute at home plate after Kahnle had thrown at Cabrera. Things quickly turned physical, Cabrera swinging at Romine, Romine tackling Cabrera to the ground.
Ironically, it wasn’t Kahnle throwing at Cabrera that lit the slugger’s fuse. Oh, Cabrera didn’t care for the dagger aimed at his ribs, believing the pitch to be intentional and knowing full well it zipped past at 97 mph, but he understood the logic.
“When they threw at me, it was okay. They wanna defend Gary Sanchez, so I was cool with that,” Cabrera said.
It was afterward, when the Yankees were changing pitchers, that Cabrera’s temper started to get hot.
Romine was apparently arguing with one of the umpires, most likely over Kahnle’s ejection without a prior warning. Cabrera told him to relax.
“I said to Romine, ‘Calm down,’ and he said, ‘I’m not f*cking talking to you,’” Cabrera explained. “He told me that and I said, ‘Oh, wow.’ He’s gonna try and act like he’s tough, that kind of stuff. I said, ‘Okay, I tried to say something to you like calm down,’ and he said some sh*t.”
Cabrera stepped away from the batter’s box as Yankees’ reliever Aroldis Chapman threw his warm-up pitches. When Cabrera got back to the plate, he confronted Romine again.
“I tell him, ‘You got any f*cking problem with me?’ And he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because I tried to calm down this and you tried to act tough.’ And he took off his mask like he wanted to fight. So that’s it, that’s what happened,” Cabrera said.
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According to Romine, there wasn’t any exchange between he and Cabrera before Cabrera left the box to allow Chapman to warm up.
“I didn’t say a word to him. There’s nothing I need to say to him,” Romine said.
It all began when Cabrera dug back into the box and got in Romine’s face.
“He said, ‘You got a problem with me?’ And I said, ‘This isn’t about you.’ Then he pushed me,” Romine explained.
That, said Romine, is why he flipped off his mask.
“I’m not gonna let someone get in my face and be confrontational. I told him it wasn’t about him, and I guess he was ready to go,” Romine said.
It took Romine by surprise when Cabrera challenged him.
“Of course it did. But, again, when you get up in someone’s face like that, things tend to escalate,” he said.
From there, Cabrera shoved Romine in the chest, before jabbing at the catcher’s jaw with his left fist and throwing a haymaker with his right. Romine ducked beneath the second punch and tackled Cabrera to the ground. Cabrera landed on top of Romine but Romine flipped him over and landed four or five solid body blows on Cabrera’s right side.
Romine said he avoided both of Cabrera’s punches.
“He didn’t land one of them. Whatever it looked like, you can see me now,” said Romine, his face unscathed. “I was fortunate enough to be missed by both of them.”
Cabrera wasn’t so lucky. While on the ground beneath a pile of bodies, he absorbed a number of punches, one of them from Gary Sanchez. Cabrera was defenseless at the time, but he declined to characterize Sanchez’s blow as a cheap shot.
“I don’t care if he punched me on the ground. You guys can say whatever you want, but (Sanchez) can do whatever he wants to. If he wants to punch me again, you gotta be face to face,” Cabrera said.
Romine felt it was clear that Cabrera was searching for a fight when he approached him at home plate.
“It’s one thing when everybody’s pushing and there’s a lot of talking going on. But when the first thing you do is throw a punch at someone, I think that speaks for itself of what he wanted,” Romine said.
Cabrera dismissed the idea that the fight was an extension of his personal frustrations amid a disappointing season. But he admitted there was some carryover ill will from the last time these two teams met, in early August, when a couple Tigers’ hitters were drilled by Yankees’ pitchers. Mikie Mahtook was plunked twice in the same game, the second time in the head — with a fastball from Kahnle.
“I can tell you this, the way they pitched us in New York, they hit a guy in the head, we had two hit by pitch, we hit one guy. It was the same thing today,” Cabrera said.
He added that he didn’t care for the Yankees’ high-and-mighty attitude.
“It was something over there, I don’t like their attitude. I know they’re the Yankees, a lot of history over there, I got a lot of respect (for) that organization. But that doesn’t mean you’re tougher than anybody,” said Cabrera.
Both Cabrera and Romine were ejected from the game, with Cabrera likely due the biggest suspension of everyone involved in Thursday’s drama. Romine was furious when he learned he had been tossed, gesturing angrily at the umpires before hurling his mask into the dugout and stalking down the stairs.
“There was a fight, I understand that. But I’m not gonna let someone try and throw punches at me. I’m gonna defend myself,” said Romine. “It was a little odd, I thought, that I got thrown out for defending myself.
“But, again, I think he was looking for a confrontation coming up to me and walking straight toward me.”
Caught in the middle of all this was Tigers’ utility man Andrew Romine, whose brother and teammate were squaring off in the baseball fight of the year. After Austin was separated from the crowd, Andrew approached him outside the Tigers’ dugout and appeared to be talking him down.
Asked if that was indeed the case, Austin said, “He wasn’t trying to settle me down. I’m a grown man, I can settle myself down. That’s between me and him.”
Andrew declined to talk to reporters after the game, but Cabrera said he’s not concerned about any potential fallout with his teammate.
“We’re okay, we’ll get a chance to talk to on the airplane today (on the way to Chicago). I don’t have anything against Romine, anybody. It was the heat of the game. They tried to be tough. Whatever, man,” he said.