No long-standing Nationals fan could watch Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays – one in which Washington Manager Davey Johnson asked the umpires to check the glove of Tampa reliever Joel Peralta, where they discovered pine tar – and not think back to the night of June 14, 2005. That night in Anaheim, Calif., then-Nationals manager Frank Robinson did exactly as Johnson did Tuesday: As soon as Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly entered the game, Robinson asked that his glove be checked. And as soon as umpire Tim Tschida – amazingly, the same crew chief who worked Tuesday night’s game – discovered pine tar on the glove, he tossed Donnelly, leading to a dugouts-clearing fracas that defined the early part of the Nationals’ debut season in Washington.
“This one was a lot calmer,” Tshida said Tuesday. “The managers both kept their cool. The one in Anaheim, I had to separate [Angels Manager Mike] Scioscia and Frank Robinson.”
So much happened that night, and so much of it mirrors the events of Tuesday – with an incredible wrinkle, which we’ll get to later, thrown in.
In 2005, the connection between Washington and Anaheim was Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen, a character who could accurately and generously be described as volatile. The Nationals acquired Guillen in an offseason trade with Anaheim. Scioscia had suspended Guillen for the latter part of the 2004 season, even with the Angels in a pennant race, because Guillen had thrown the last of a string of tantrums when Scioscia lifted him for a pinch runner.
Prior to his return to Anaheim, Guillen downplayed his animosity with the Angels. But before the series, he told Robinson about Donnelly’s habit of concealing pine tar on his glove to make his pitches break more dramatically. In the seventh inning of the second game of that series, the Angels led the first-place Nationals 3-1, and Scioscia brought on Donnelly to relieve starter Ervin Santana. Donnelly was to face pinch hitter Carlos Baerga. (Man, those were the days.)
So here came Robinson. As they did Tuesday night, the umpires inspected the glove. As they did Tuesday night, they ejected the reliever, in this case, Donnelly. The difference: When Scioscia heard the decision, he confronted Robinson. Mayhem ensued.
“He walked over to me and angrily said to me, ‘Every one of your pitchers that come into the game, I’m going to have them undressed,’” Robinson said the next day. “And that’s what I took exception to, because I thought and I felt like he was off base.”
Robinson, who was 69 at the time – precisely Johnson’s age now – went toe-to-toe with Scioscia. Guillen had to be restrained by teammates. And just as Rays Manager Joe Maddon countered by having Tschida check the glove and hat of Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus, Scioscia responded by asking the same of then-Nationals reliever Gary Majewski.
All of this was exciting enough on the field, particularly because Guillen responded by hitting a laser-like home run off Angels reliever Scot Shields to tie the game, and the Nationals won 6-3 after Junior Spivey (oh, man, I’m getting misty-eyed again) drove in a run with an infield single. The victory gave the Nationals a two-game lead in the N.L. East.
But remember what happened afterward, and continued the next day (when, if you recall, Ryan Drese made his debut for Washington with eight shutout innings, and Chad Cordero loaded the bases in the ninth but worked out of it anyway to seal a 1-0 win)?
Here’s Robinson, on whether he would get past the incident with Scioscia:
“Right now, I don’t’ feel like getting past it,” he said in the dugout before the series finale. “… As far as forgiveness and stuff, I don’t feel like it right now. I’m not that type of person. You step on my toe, it hurts for a while; and I’m not going to forgive you for stepping on my toe until maybe it stops hurting. Then I might think about it.”
Robinson, a Hall of Famer as a player (and a teammate of Johnson’s in Baltimore), took particular exception to what he thought was Scioscia’s attempt to intimidate him.
“Let me tell you this: If people let me intimidate them, then I’ll intimidate them,” Robinson said. “But I wasn’t going to let him intimidate me. I am the intimidator.”
Well, then. Robinson and Scioscia were each suspended for one game.
That leaves two more matters, one Nationals fans will surely remember, another they likely won’t. First, Guillen. He was fairly calm in postgame interviews the night of the incident (when he and Robinson both concocted a story that the coaching staff had picked up on Donnelly’s habit from watching video (and I won’t even get into how laughable that explanation is, given how little video that coaching staff watched)). But the next night, when asked about Scioscia, Guillen couldn’t hold back.
“I don’t got truly no respect for him anymore because I’m still hurt from what happened last year,” Guillen said. “I don’t want to make all these comments, but Mike Scioscia, to me, is like a piece of garbage. I don’t really care. I don’t care if I get in trouble. He can go to hell. We’ve got to move on. I don’t got no respect for him.”
(I still have the tape of this interview. I will always have the tape of this interview.)
“I want to beat this team so bad,” Guillen continued. “I can never get over about what happened last year. It’s something I’m never going to forget. Any time I play that team, Mike Scioscia’s managing, it’s always going to be personal to me.”
It actually became personal between Guillen and Donnelly, and the two exchanged words when they moved on – when Donnelly was pitching for Boston and Guillen hitting for Seattle, for instance. But the last little wrinkle to this whole story, tying Tuesday night to seven years ago?
The final reliever for the Angels that night, going two-thirds of an inning without allowing a hit but walking a batter: Joel Peralta.
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