Phillies pitcher Paul Byrd is a devout Christian who happens to lead the National League with 13 hit batsmen. Former Brave Byrd is close pals with Atlanta catcher Eddie Perez, who has been repeatedly plunked, nicked and banged up since taking over for the injured Javy Lopez this summer. So Perez was already in a foul mood when Byrd hit him with a fastball in the third inning of a July 30 game at Turner Field. He barked at Byrd, and both benches emptied, though nobody threw any punches.
In the fourth, Atlanta's John Smoltz retaliated by plunking Alex Arias. Umpire Jerry Meals ejected Smoltz, which further annoyed Perez. Reliever Russ Springer replaced Smoltz, Byrd stepped to the plate, and that's when all heck broke loose. The mild-mannered 185-pound Byrd told Perez he hadn't meant to hit him the inning before. But the burly catcher wasn't buying it. He shoved Byrd and smacked him on the head with his catcher's mitt. The two fought as Meals stepped aside, the benches cleared again and what one witness calls "a huge angry pig-pile" formed on the ground around home plate.
Byrd and Perez were face-to-face at the bottom of the pile. "The Lord Jesus is my daddy," Byrd yelled, "and He takes care of His children! He knows I wasn't trying to hit you. He's going to take care of me, so you better be careful with me."
The surprised Perez felt his anger melt away. "I said, 'Stay with me, Byrdie. I'll help you,' " he says.
"Eddie couldn't get off me fast enough," says Byrd. "It was like I was on fire."
Meals tossed Perez after the fight. Byrd stayed in the game and won it to run his record to 12-6, then insisted he is no headhunted "It's not my intention to hit people," he said, "but the Lord blessed me with a short right arm and an 85 mile-an-hour fastball. I have to throw inside."
Perez laughed when he heard that. "Yeah," he said, "but not at my elbow."
Whiskey a Go-Go
Hungary's most-wanted hockey star escaped from a Budapest prison last month. Attila Ambrus, one of the best goalies in his country's top pro league, had been jailed last January after he was unmasked as the notorious Whiskey Bandit, who had pulled off 27 bank robberies since 1996 and made off with $560,000. The Bandit was wildly popular, a folk hero who would stop by a pub for a shot of whiskey before each heist—"to collect my strength," he said in an interview after his arrest. Ambrus was sent to a maximum security prison to await trial, and his popularity grew when he escaped on July 10 by breaking into a prison office, pulling telephone and electric cables from a wall and using them to swing from a window to the street. In the manhunt that followed, police searched cars on Budapest's main streets, security was redoubled at border crossings, and Interpol issued an arrest warrant, but to his fans' delight Ambrus stayed a step ahead of the law.