Tonight’s Braves-Brewers game at Turner Field got ugly very quickly.
Brewers CF Carlos Gomez hit his 23rd HR of the season, a solo shot to left-center field off of Paul Maholm with 1 out in the top of the 1st. Gomez stood and admired his long home run, and may or may not have even yelled toward Maholm (his back was to the camera on replays shown). As he began to round the bases, Braves 1B Freddie Freeman began jawing back at Gomez. Between 2nd and 3rd, and again after rounding 3rd, Gomez continued his trash talk towards Maholm on the mound. After he rounded third, Braves C Brian McCann met him halfway up the third base line, blocking Gomez access to the plate. Home plate umpire Paul Nauert tried to separate the two, but the trouble had already begun. On deck batter Johnathan Lucroy tried to pull Gomez back, but the Braves infielders were already running towards the incident that was beginning. Both benches and bullpens were on the field instantly, some to join in the fighting, while others were trying to protect their teammates and/or restrain them.
Within seconds, Braves reserve OF Reed Johnson actually appeared to try and shove Gomez toward the ground, unsuccessfully. Otherwise, a little bit of pushing and shoving went on amongst the teams, but Johnson’s shot was the most violent part of the incident.
During replays afterward, McCann could be heard yelling something to the effect of “Run the bases,” as Gomez stood and admired his long blast, looking at Maholm. McCann was also, as I mentioned, the one who blocked the plate and started the face-to-face aspect of the conflict.
Freeman, Gomez, and Braves backup C Gerald Laird were all ejected (apparently Laird played in part in this as well). If you ask me, McCann and Reed Johnson should have also been thrown out, as McCann started it telling Gomez to run and continued it when he blocked the plate, and Johnson tried to take a shot at Gomez.
Braves radio announcer Jim Powell remarked later in the game that one of his staff in the broadcast booth pointed out that Braves OF Jason Heyward, a player who wasn’t in the game tonight, due to a day off, but is considered one of the team’s leaders, put on his helmet (Heyward broke his jaw on August 21 and has a special helmet with a protective piece on the side), came up behind SS Andrelton Simmons, who was being restrained by others including Brewers IF Yuniesky Betancourt, put his arm around Simmons’ shoulder, and slowly pulled him away from the incident. Instead of getting involved, Heyward led by example and pulled a player who will be a big part of the future of the Braves away, and prevented him from getting himself into trouble or getting injured.
It turns out Gomez may have been upset with Maholm from two past instances in which Gomez was hit by a pitch by Maholm. One was earlier this year, while one came back in 2010 when Maholm was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of course, that isn’t a good reason to cause this kind of chaos.
Many analysts will try to put the fault on one side or the other when these types of incidents happen. I’ll be different here, because I believe both sides played the part of catalyst in this explosion.
As for the Brewers, obviously Gomez should not have stood at the plate to admire his home run. In addition, he shouldn’t have talked back at Maholm, McCann, and Freeman. If he wanted to get back at Maholm, the HR should have been enough.
As for the Braves, McCann and Freeman are at fault for their part in shouting and Gomez, and McCann is at additional fault for blocking the plate. I understand the Braves frustration at Gomez. I would’ve been upset too if I were in their shoes. However, there are much better ways to show your disapproval with an opposing player than to yell at him as he rounds 1st during his trot (no matter how slow that trot is), or physically blocking the plate to prevent him from scoring. One way to get back at him would be for the managers, or even the players, to talk about what happened after the game (which they probably will anyway, even after what did happen). Another way would be to hit Gomez with a pitch in his next at-bat. This isn’t the most attractive option, as many brawls have started this way as well, and I don’t usually approve of “plunking” players this way, but anything is better retribution than what happened here.
What did happen was very juvenile in a way, particularly with Gomez and McCann. It was as if McCann was an 8-year old at a Little League game, and saying “You’re going to stand and watch it. Fine. I won’t let you touch home plate.”
By the way, about the plate being blocked: Gomez never touched home plate. Therefore, according to the rules of baseball, he should be out. I do understand these were extenuating circumstances, but Gomez never did the obligatory part of his home run.
The Braves were almost in a brawl on September 11 when Marlins P Jose Fernandez also stood and admired a home run. McCann didn’t block the plate that day, but let Fernandez know he didn’t like the admiration. The benches cleared, but nothing more ensued as cooler heads prevailed.
As for the game itself, the Brewers won 4-0, on the strength of a Kyle Lohse 2-hit shutout. The Braves are now a half-game behind the Cardinals for the best record in the NL, in the race for home-field advantage.
On an otherwise dark day for the Braves, pitchers Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters both began playing catch at 30 feet, which was the first baseball activity for either since their Tommy John surgeries in May, six days apart. There was also bad news on the injury front, P Brandon Beachy was officially shut down for the year with continuing elbow soreness. He has not pitched since August 20, and has only made 5 starts in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.