The Yankees, led by Darryl Strawberry, shot up from their seats in the dugout, shouting at Benitez. The pitcher dropped his glove, extended his arms and gestured with his fingers for the New York players to come and get him. They did. A wild, sprawling fight ensued in which Strawberry and Yankees pitcher Graeme Lloyd threw punches at Benitez, and Baltimore pitcher Alan Mills unloaded on Strawberry.
Two days after it had been the site of a perfect game, venerable Yankee Stadium was reduced to a Jerry Springer set. Even more shocking was what happened later. To a man, the Orioles refused to muster even feigned support for Benitez, as alone in his own clubhouse after the game as he would be for the next two days at the Grand Hyatt. That's how badly Benitez had violated baseball's ancient and unwritten code of brushback ethics.
"It was his mistake that allowed Bernie to hit the home run," Gillick says. "You make a bad pitch, and then to take out your frustration on someone else is not right. I think that's what sits badly with everyone."
"Dumbest thing I've ever seen," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "Ask the Orioles. They'll tell you it was dumb."
Miller, who said Benitez was "out of control," and catcher Lenny Webster agreed that Benitez had wrongly started the incident. Says another teammate, one of several who asked to remain anonymous for the sake of clubhouse peace, "He embarrassed the whole organization. We don't do things that way here. It reflects badly on all of us. He may be ready physically to be a closer, but he's not ready mentally."
Three days after the incident, when Benitez rejoined the team for pregame workouts, he received almost no counsel or support or even a friendly word from his cliquish, notoriously detached teammates. This is an aging team—no current Oriole came up through the minors with Benitez—that is preoccupied with rumors of housecleaning trades. Virtually ignored in the clubhouse, Benitez was left to play cards with a 21-year-old Spanish-speaking rookie from Aruba, pitcher Sidney Ponson, and to trail Bernhardt like a puppy.
Perhaps now Benitez understands the unwritten rules of the brushback. You throw at someone only after obvious provocation, such as when an opponent buzzes one of your teammates or tries to show you up. When you do retaliate, you keep the pitch below the letters. "Another foot," said one Oriole, "and he hits [Martinez's] head or his spine with a 97-mile-per-hour heater. Scary."
The art of the brushback lives on, virtually unchanged in its protocols since the good old days of Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson and other menacing masters. Kevin Brown of the San Diego Padres and the perpetual scowl, for instance, is seven hit batters from becoming the 47th pitcher to nail 100 in his career. Brown has hit batters more often (.42 per nine innings) than any member of the 100-Hit Club whose career began after 1915. Moreover, Seattle's Randy Johnson (87) and the Colorado Rockies' Darryl Kile (75) are knocking on the door, not to mention on nervous batters, even more frequently man Brown (.44 and .53 per nine innings, respectively).
Two days after suspending Benitez for eight games, American League president Gene Budig last Friday suspended Detroit Tigers righthander Doug Brocail for two games for hitting Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics with a pitch on May 15, immediately after Brocail had been warned for throwing behind Henderson. Brocail's behavior was classic Brushback 101. He had reasonable cause to act (retaliation for Oakland lefthander Mike Mohler's nailing Bobby Higginson two innings earlier, and for Henderson's jawing at Brocail after the previous pitch), and he did so with a properly placed delivery (left ankle).
"I don't like to see brawls, but part of our game is to throw inside," Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner says. "I'm in favor of leaving things the way they are and letting the players take care of it."