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Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Yankees, Rays clear benches after pair of incidents

ESPN.com news services

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays brawled in the second inning of a spring training game Wednesday, an inning after Yankees pitcher Heath Phillips was ejected after hitting Rays prospect Evan Longoria with a pitch.

Shelley Duncan
The Yankees' Shelley Duncan slid spikes high into the Rays' Akinori Iwamura, drawing the ire of Jonny Gomes and prompting a bench-clearing brawl.

The escalation of bad blood between division rivals stemmed from a home plate collision in a spring training game four days ago that injured a Yankees catching prospect and irked Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

In the second inning on Wednesday, Yankees first baseman Shelley Duncan slid hard, spikes high, into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Duncan was subsequently tackled by Rays right fielder Jonny Gomes, clearing the benches.

No punches appeared to have been thrown as order was restored.

Duncan, Gomes, hitting coach Kevin Long and Yankees third-base coach Bobby Meacham were ejected.

On Sunday, Duncan had dropped a hint that the Yankees might match the Rays' intensity on the base paths.

"What it does is it opens another chapter of intensity in the spring training ballgames," Duncan said, referring to the home plate collision. "They showed what is acceptable to them and how they're going to play the game, so we're going to go out there to match their intensity -- or even exceed it."

"There's going to be no malicious evil intent in terms of carryover, but it just adds a different type of fire to your gut when you play that team because you understand how they're playing the game and what their mind-set is," Duncan said Sunday.

But Duncan's slide was the second of two plays suggesting the Yankees were more than a little upset at the Rays.

In the first inning. Yankees pitcher Heath Phillips hit Rays third baseman Longoria on his midsection. Plate umpire Chad Fairchild ejected Phillips.

The Rays had already scored two runs on three hits in the inning.

The bad blood stemmed from a ninth-inning play at home plate four days ago. In that incident, the Rays' Elliot Johnson barreled into Yankees catching prospect Francisco Cervelli at home plate. Cervelli broke his wrist in the collision and Girardi complained about the play afterward, saying it was unnecessary in a spring training game.

But Girardi also said he didn't want the Yankees retaliating against the Rays in future games.

The umpiring crew, which met with Girardi and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon before the game, issued warnings to both dugouts after Longoria was hit and Phillips was ejected.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.