Tense third inning lights fire under Giants
Benches clear as Sanchez, Utley -- who have history -- have words
PHILADELPHIA -- Tensions in the hard-fought National League Championship Series boiled over in the third inning of Game 6 at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night.Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez hit Phillies second baseman Chase Utley in the square of the back, setting off an on-field standoff between the two teams before the Giants prevailed, 3-2, and won their first pennant since 2002. It wasn't the first time in their careers Sanchez and Utley have had words, but it never happened in the pressure cooker of a critical playoff game. "I've hit him maybe five times," Sanchez said in the bedlam of the Giants' postgame clubhouse. "I wasn't trying to hit him. It's always been an accident. It wasn't something I wanted to do. But the way he acted, it was very unprofessional."
Sanchez became rankled at Utley after he picked up the baseball and underhand tossed it back to the mound, where it hit the rosin bag, as he walked down the line to first base. This prompted Giants catcher Buster Posey to glare at Utley and seemingly utter some words in Utley's direction.
Sanchez also mouthed a few words at Utley as he stood on first base. Utley responded and seemed to blow off Sanchez, but the Phillies charged out of the first-base dugout, bringing the Giants on the field. Both bullpens emptied. There was some pushing and shoving, but no punches were thrown. Both sides were issued warnings afterward."It certainly lit a fire," said Brian Wilson, the Giants closer who saved his third game of the series, striking out Ryan Howard looking with runners on first and second to secure the flag, the fourth since the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958. "I'm glad it happened, because it made us wake up and realize what was at stake. At that point, the score was tied and we we're looking for any reason to wake up. Don't wake a sleeping giant. Emotions are ramped up a little bit. Everybody is tasting blood. Everybody wants to murder something." At that point, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had seen enough and immediately yanked Sanchez from the game. The left-hander, who had already walked Placido Polanco to open the inning, was removed for reliever Jeremy Affeldt. Sanchez threw 50 pitches, allowing two runs on three hits, walking two, whiffing one and hitting a batter. Six of the 12 batters he faced reached base. The score was tied at 2 at the time, and Affeldt retired the next three Phillies to pitch out of the inning. "Sanchez was off," Bochy said. "His control was exactly where it should have been. He hit Utley and Utley took exception to it. It's not a thing we're trying to do." On July 30, 2009, in the sixth inning at AT&T Park, Sanchez threw a pitch over Utley's head and the two had words that day, too, under far different circumstances. Was it a "purpose pitch?" "I don't know," Utley said at the time. "I guess you're going to have to ask him." "I lost my release point," Sanchez responded then. "It was supposed to be away. I didn't try to hit him. I have nothing against him." Utley looked at Sanchez and took a quick step toward the mound, but kept his composure and remained at home plate. Utley never exchanged words with Sanchez, but the pitch clearly agitated him. Two pitches later, Utley called time and stepped out of the batter's box just before Sanchez delivered a pitch. Sanchez threw the ball into the ground, which rolled to home plate. Utley wouldn't admit to it being gamesmanship, but he had the last laugh when he homered later in the at-bat. On Saturday, both players lost their composure. Asked what Sanchez had said to him, Utley said: "Maybe you should ask him." Surprised that benches and bullpens cleared? "That's part of the game," said Utley, who hit .182 (4-for-22) in the series with no homers and one RBI. Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes, who was closest to the action, said he wasn't shocked that the incident ignited so much emotion. "There's a lot of emotion in these games," Lopes said. "These games mean so much, and it doesn't take much to set guys off in this type of environment. I didn't see anything wrong with it. It was good for both clubs. Chase came up and flipped the ball. I guess Sanchez said something to Chase. That's what initiated stuff. No big deal. With what's at stake for both teams, it's a normal reaction." Sanchez: "Frustrated? I wasn't frustrated. If you become frustrated or overreact in that type of situation that's how you lose the game."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.