PHILADELPHIA - While there was minimal pushing and shoving in the top of the fifth inning when benches cleared between the Nationals and Phillies, and while the game went on without further incident, tonight's Denard Span-Cliff Lee spat might be something to keep in mind the next 18 times these teams play each other in 2014.
Bad blood can build quickly between division rivals.
Span came up in the fifth with runners at second and third and one out. He stepped into the batter's box and started to go into his pre-pitch routine, with his head down, when a pitch from Lee came buzzing up and in.
Span was clearly upset by the pitch, and looked out toward Lee. He appeared to say, "Come on, man," a few times, and shook his head towards the 2008 Cy Young winner. The at-bat continued, and Span grounded out to the right side, bringing in a run.
"I was in the box, had my head down," Span said. "I don't know what the rule is. I've been quick-pitched before, but I've never been quick-pitched when I'm not looking, and also quick-pitched up and in when I'm not looking. So that's what bothered me. I didn't like the fact he quick-pitched me, because he's (a) Cy Young (winner). He can get guys out without doing that. But if he would've quick-pitched me and threw one right down the middle, on the outside corner for a strike, I would've been pissed off that I was down 0-1. But I would've been like, all right, I need to get back in the box and get ready. But when he quick-pitched me, I wasn't looking. I had my head down, and he came up and in. I didn't like that. If one slips, hits me in the head when I'm not looking ... it's just over something stupid.
"I have the utmost respect for him. I've been competing against him for a long time. But I didn't like that at all. It was nothing like I wanted to go after him and fight him or anything like that. I just wanted to let him know I didn't appreciate that. We're playing this game trying not to get guys hurt. Whenever you do something like that to me, I think that's not good at all."
Span said he wasn't trying to call time out at any point.
"To be honest with you, I think he caught both me and the umpire off-guard," Span said. "I didn't call time at all. When he threw the pitch, the umpire, he was just as furious as I was. I think he might've yelled at Cliff Lee. And then me and (catcher Carlos) Ruiz exchanged a few words. And then (home plate umpire Jim Reynolds) was like, 'Denard, don't worry about it. I got you.' Before the next pitch, he was letting me know he's not going to throw a pitch until I know you're ready to hit. And that was that."
Lee told Philadelphia reporters that he wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing again.
"I'll do that every time," Lee said. "If they want to stand there and not look, I'll take a strike every time. I threw a ball, so maybe he was mad because it was close to him, but if they are going to stand there and not look, I'm going to throw a pitch. I think it's on the hitter to be in the box and make sure they are ready. I'll take advantage of that every time I can."
As Span trotted back toward the Nats dugout after grounding out, he overheard Lee talking to Reynolds. Span knew the conversation was about him, and so he turned back around to get his two cents in.
Benches and bullpens cleared briefly, and warnings were apparently issued by the umpires.
"He was talking to the umpire," Span said. "But I felt like he was talking to me. I don't know what the umpire asked him, but I think the umpire was letting him know whatever. And then he loud-talked the umpire, saying, 'If he's in the box, he needs to be ready to hit.' When he said that, I was like, 'OK, you're talking to me, indirectly. So I'm going to go tell you what I have to say now.' That's what it was."
Like Span, Lee brushed off the incident afterward.
"No one was really mad or anything," Lee said. "I think it got overblown. I don't think he was mad, and I wasn't mad. I was just trying to explain what happened, especially in that situation - second and third, one out. If a guy is going to get in the batter's box and not look, I'm going to throw a pitch. There's no way around it. I think it's on the hitter to pay attention when you're in the box."
I'll give Span the final word on this one.
"I understand you're trying to compete and you want to get the advantage," he said. "But I've been facing him too long and he's had too much success in this league to do that. I just feel like he's better than that. I don't have a problem with him. If I see him, we can have a civil conversation about it. Honestly, that's all I was trying to do. It looked like I was trying to go after him, but I really wasn't. I just wanted to let him know: Come on, man.
"Me and him have been competing against each other for a long time. I've never had a problem with him. It was nothing like I wanted to go and fight him. Cause if I wanted to fight him, I could've got to him, easily. If I really wanted to. But that's not what I wanted to do. I'm here to play baseball."