PHILADELPHIA — Benches and bullpens emptied in the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night, and though no punches were thrown between the Nationals and Phillies, Denard Span and Cliff Lee did exchange some verbal barbs about an incident sparked by Lee's up-and-in quick-pitch to an unsuspecting Span.
"I don't think he was trying to hit me," Span said following the Nats' 5-3 victory. "But the fact that you're coming inside and you're trying to quick-pitch me when I'm not looking, that's too dangerous. I mean, I'm not even looking. You throw a fastball inside? If you throw a fastball away and quick-pitch me, OK. But ... he's too good of a pitcher to quick-pitch like that when a guy's not looking. He's too good."
Span was standing in the batter's box with one out and runners on second and third, looking down and going into his pre-pitch routine when Lee fired a fastball well inside and up in the zone. Span didn't see the ball until it buzzed past him, then looked at Lee, shrugged his shoulders and could be seen saying: "Come on, man."
Nothing else happened immediately, and when Span grounded out to second, driving in a run, that figured to be the end of the story. But as he jogged back to the Nationals' dugout, he heard Lee speaking at an unusually high volume toward plate umpire Jim Reynolds.
"He loud-talked the umpire, saying: 'If he's in the box, he needs to be ready to hit,'" Span said. "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.'"
Span turned toward Lee and said a few words of his own, at which point both club's benches and bullpen emptied. Order was restored without any physical confrontation between the two teams, but each side clearly was steamed.
"I threw a ball, so maybe he was mad because it was close to him," Lee said. "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."
Span took issue less with the fact Lee quick-pitched and more with the fact said pitch was up-and-in. Having suffered two concussions in the last three years, including one only three weeks ago, Span is particularly sensitive about anything involving the potential for head injuries.
"I had my head down, and he came up-and-in," he said. "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 claims Reynolds was equally surprised and upset by the pitch and said he would speak to Lee about it. But the benches cleared as the umpire was talking the left-hander.
"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."
Reynolds did inform every Nationals pitcher who appeared in the game after that point that warnings had been issued and any retaliation would result in an automatic ejection. The game continued without incident, though tempers might have flared in the bottom of the ninth when Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was called for obstruction on a high and hard takeout of shortstop Ian Desmond trying to turn a double play.
Span spoke afterward as though the tiff with Lee was closed in his mind.
"Me and him have been competing against each other for a long time," he said. "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."