MINNEAPOLIS — When you open your newspaper and look at the box score in the morning, you’ll see that the Twins beat the Brewers 5-3, beating the Crew for the second straight time and forcing a first place tie with the Red Sox. But if you focus on that, you miss the story.
This wasn’t a baseball game. It was a brawl. During breaks from the brawl, they played some baseball.
It all started in the bottom of the fifth inning when Kent Hrbek slid hard and high into Jim Gantner in an unsuccessful attempt to break up a double play. Gantner was sent sprawling and would be removed from the game with a deep thigh bruise.
“I don’t care when they slide low,” Gantner told the Milwaukee Sentinel after the game, “but when they hit me up here [upper thigh] they were in the air.”
Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn was furious about the slide. He immediately charged the field to come to his second baseman’s aid. On the way off the field, he was seen jawing at Hrbek.
“You can quote me,” Kuenn said later. “I called him a no good SOB for taking a cheap shot at my second baseman. He told me he was just sliding but he’s full of it. You might be able to slide like that in A ball but up here’s a different story. He’s a big boy in a big man’s game. It was a cheap shot. Period.”
Hrbek watched the tape after the game and admitted it was a poor slide. “I am a poor slider and I guess that proved it.”
Kuenn didn’t buy it. “If he’s a bad slider,” he said, “get some sliding lessons.”
The Brewers would get their revenge in the sixth. With Paul Molitor on second and Robin Yount on first, Cecil Cooper hit a double play ball to second baseman Juan Castino. Castino flipped to shortstop Lenny Faedo for the force and Yount went far outside of the baseline to take out Faedo and knocked him on the temple with his forearm.
“I knew something would happen,” said Faedo, “but I never thought he’d come after me. I was just going for the force. The next thing I know he was on the turf trying to get me.”
Castino and centerfielder Bobby Mitchell then charged Yount while Brewers first base coach Ron Hansen tried to break up the fracas. It was too late as both benches cleared for a 10-minute brawl. Players were seen pushing and shoving across the field. Kent Hrbek and Brewers pitcher Bob McClure would emerge from the pile throwing punches. Ben Oglivie, Charlie Moore and Ted Simmons then came to McClure’s aid and ambushed Hrbek.
“I figured something was going to happen,” said Hrbek. “He [Kuenn] told me he was going to get me. I guess they got me.”
Hrbek and McClure would be ejected from the game.
When order was finally restored, a game was played. Jack O’Connor limited the Brewers offense to two runs on five hits through 6 2/3 innings. Mike Caldwell allowed five runs on 11 hits in the same length of time.
But the game was the side show. Everyone who witnessed this game will forever be talking about the brawl. Though the Brewers lost, it could be a moment that further brings them together as a team.
The first test is tomorrow, as they look to avoid the sweep.