Commentary

Mexico, Canada Throw Down

Canada fights to the finish to stay live, upsetting Mexico in brawling contest

Originally Published: March 10, 2013
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- Here's a possible new rule to add to the World Baseball Classic. In the first round of tournament play, no pitcher should be allowed to throw more than 65 punches in a game.

What a thing. Saturday's WBC game between Canada and Mexico quickly descended into the WBCM -- the World Baseball Cage Match -- when a ninth-inning bunt single sparked a long and violent benches-clearing brawl with players tackling and wrestling each other, holding each other down and punching faces and dodging debris hurled by outraged fans. The only thing missing was someone throwing Don Zimmer to the ground.

How ugly did it get out there? "I grabbed [Alfredo Aceves], and I had a hold of him and I think I saw Satan in his eyes," Canada batting coach Larry Walker said after Canada's 10-3 victory. "That was scary looking. I was just hoping he wouldn't throw any punches at me because I would have been in trouble."

[+] EnlargeJay Johnson, Eduardo Arredondo
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Mexico-Canada rumble wound up getting an entire stadium involved.

Mind you, Walker is 6-foot-2 and weighs more than 200 pounds. And there are still people who think the World Baseball Classic is nothing but an exhibition?

"This is the real thing," Walker said. "There is a different feeling when you put your country's jersey on your back. I'm not saying these guys don't play hard for their regular teams, but you're playing for your nation right now, and that brings out a little more patriotism in your game."

But do we really need to replace the umpires with United Nations peacekeepers?

The brawl was the result of a violent collision between traditional baseball etiquette and tournament tiebreaker rules. In a normal regular-season game, a team bunting for a hit with a six-run lead in the ninth inning would be grounds for retaliation. One WBC tiebreaker, however, involves runs-per-inning differential, which encourages teams to score as many runs as possible, even when they hold a comfortable lead.

Or, as Canada manager Ernie Whitt put it: "Basically, we are playing every inning as if it's 0-0. Our players knew it, and I assumed all the other players would know it, too."

So did Mexico manager Rick Renteria.

"I think that if the rules are not changed maybe I needed to do a better job of explaining them to my players," Renteria said. "I thought I had. I thought I had it understood. But as I mentioned, I think when you get into the heat of the battle of playing the game -- a lot of these guys are used to playing in their respective leagues or clubs, and when that happens in that moment, [pitcher Arnold Leon] just lost sight of it. That's all."

Here's what happened: Canada held a 9-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning when catcher Chris Robinson, who had been involved in some earlier hard slides and a collision at home plate, led off by bunting for a hit down the third-base line for a single. Evidently forgetting -- or not caring -- about the run-differential tiebreaker, Mexico third baseman Luis Cruz was so disgusted that he pointed to his side, openly instructing Leon to drill the next batter in retaliation.

[+] EnlargeKarim Garcia and Chris Robinson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe brawl wasn't the only time heavy hits were landed between Mexico and Canada.

Leon did, though it took three pitches -- and an umpire's warning on both pitches -- before he finally hit Rene Tosoni to set off the fight that cleared the benches and produced one-on-one fights around home plate.

"There's a point [at which] you got to stand up for yourself,'' Canada's Justin Morneau, who went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, said. "We got hit for playing the game, and that happens, but at the same time you got to stand up yourself. You can't just get pushed around.''

"It's Saturday night. Hockey Night in Canada," Walker said. "Don Cherry can't wait to get on the air."

Canada provoked the fans as well when several players pumped out their jerseys -- proudly displaying the name across their chest. This enraged many fans in an announced crowd of 19,581 dominated by Mexican fans. At least two people threw water bottles onto the field (Canada's Cale Iorg threw one back into the stands), and someone also threw a baseball that nearly hit Walker in the head. At that point, Whitt went to plate umpire Brian Gorman and told him he would pull his team from the field if order wasn't restored.

Relative calm eventually was restored and seven players were ejected: Leon, Oliver Perez, Eduardo Arredondo and Aceves for Mexico and Tosoni, Pete Orr and Jay Johnson of Canada. WBC officials reviewed replays of the fight to determine whether there would be any further punishment, but eventually decided that nobody would be suspended.

Renteria and Whitt said they didn't think there were any injuries -- "You can't hurt us Canadians," Whitt said -- and the victory meant Canada controlled its destiny to advance to the next round (it would do so by beating the U.S.). But Whitt still was clearly angry about what had happened.

"There's got to be another method other than scoring runs, running up the score on the opposing team," Whitt said. "No one likes that. That's not the way baseball is supposed to be played. There's a professionalism that we're all accustomed to here in North America. And unfortunately, teams are knocked out of the tournament because other teams run up the score on them. Unfortunately, that's what you have to deal with when you have that type of format."

Whitt, however, had no suggestion for a better tiebreaker, nor did U.S. manager Joe Torre. (Torre noted, "I can't even remember my phone number.")

There is no great way of settling three-way ties in a short tournament, but one possibility is fewest runs allowed. That would discourage teams from running up the score, but it also would come at the expense of teams built more around offense than pitching. Then again, 90 percent of baseball is pitching, so perhaps that would be a good thing.

That's something for WBC officials to consider. Until then, it's time for the players to keep their heads in the game as much as their hearts and their tempers.

"The rules are established," Renteria said. "When you participate in a tournament that's not your tournament, you have to follow the rules. It's as simple as that."

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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