"It's always been kind of intense," Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez said of the rivalry between American League West foes. "But it's always been clean, too."
Clean, the sixth was not. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Angels starter John Lackey's first pitch to A's catcher Jason Kendall was an inside breaking ball that just missed Kendall's left elbow. Lackey barked something to Kendall and, without hesitation, Kendall charged the mound.
"I can't repeat what he said, but there was some cursing," Kendall said. "I'm not gonna have anybody talk to me that way."
"Jason has a history of being out on the plate and keeping his elbow guard on the plate," Lackey said. "I told him to move it back, and he came after me. I was surprised, but I'm cool with that."
According to several sources, it wasn't the first time Lackey has had words with Kendall, who has been hit by a pitch 201 times in his career, ranking him seventh in big-league history. One of those plunkings came from Lackey, who drilled him in the third inning of an Angels victory in Oakland last Sept. 26.
"I know Lackey said something back in Oakland, and he said something today, too," Chavez offered.
Chavez said he was surprised to see Kendall charging the mound, but outfielder Mark Kotsay, Kendall's best friend on the team, wasn't. Giving away a half-foot and 30 pounds to Lackey, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Kendall wrestled Lackey to the ground with Halos catcher Jeff Mathis wrapped around his waist as the benches and bullpens cleared and piled on in the middle of the diamond.
"He's definitely into the game," Kotsay said of Kendall. "He's very intense. Both of those guys are. I guess something was said, and Jason kind of snapped."
"I heard some words ... but I don't know what was said," insisted Mathis. "The ball didn't hit him, and he just took off."
Kendall confirmed that Lackey mentioned his elbow guard but refused to further elaborate. "People don't understand how intense it is out there," he said. "These kinds of things are gonna happen every once in a while."
"I guess he caught Kendall in the wrong moment, which isn't hard to do," added Chavez.
Nobody knows that better than A's reliever Joe Kennedy. In August 2004, as a member of the Rockies, Kennedy was charged by Kendall, then with the Pirates, after hitting him with a pitch.
"It's just his batting style; he doesn't get out of the way," Kennedy said.
Kendall and Kennedy both smiled when reminded of their ruckus, and Kennedy cracked, "He didn't get me like he got [Lackey]. I got him."
Home-plate umpire Dale Scott, who ejected Kendall and Lackey when the dust settled, gave his version of the incident with a pool reporter.
"Lackey threw that first pitch to Kendall and came off the mound a couple steps very aggressively and very loudly said, 'Stick that thing out there,' " Scott said. "Kendall took exception to it and yelled something. I didn't hear what he yelled, and then he was gone. It happened real quick. Kendall went shooting out there real quick."
"I shouldn't have been ejected," Lackey said. "This guy has been hit 250-some times, and there's a reason for that."
Added Scioscia: "An opposition batter charges the mound and our pitcher gets tossed? That is an absolute joke."
Scott said he clearly explained to Scioscia why both players got the boot.
"He didn't think Lackey should be run because it was Kendall charging [his] guy," Scott said. "I said, 'Well, you're right. Kendall shouldn't be charging him.' But if Lackey doesn't aggressively yell at him like he did, and almost challenge him in his body language, then Kendall doesn't go after him. He has to take some responsibility for the reasons these teams are on the field fighting.
"It's that simple. He didn't agree with that."
The last time the A's are believed to have been involved in a benches-clearing incident was in August 2003 against the Brewers. Chavez said he doesn't condone fighting "in any way," but he does like the "grit and fire" players such as Kendall, Kotsay and Milton Bradley bring to the traditionally laid-back A's.
Oakland manager Ken Macha, who spent most of the melee playing peacemaker, didn't seem to like any of it. Bradley and Kotsay did not start because they're banged up, and Macha surely didn't like seeing oft-injured Frank Thomas, who was on third base at the time, sprinting into the mess on the mound.
"That's a major concern for injury," Macha said. "I went out there trying to get everyone off the pile as best I could. It's not something I condone."
"I'm a big just-play-baseball guy," Chavez said. "I'd rather we just kept it all between the lines."
There actually was some excellent baseball on display, starting with Chavez's three-run homer off Lackey in the first, tying him with Nick Swisher for the team lead with 10 fun balls for the year. The Angels got a run back in the third on a sacrifice fly by Garret Anderson, but right after the sixth-inning fireworks, Adam Melhuse stepped in to take over Kendall's at-bat and got the run back with grounder to shortstop.
In the bottom half of the inning, Vladimir Guerrero launched a two-run homer to center field off A's starter Brad Halsey to cut Oakland's lead to 4-3, and that's how it stayed until the top of the ninth.
Halsey, making his first start of the year as a replacement for injured righty Rich Harden, allowed three runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three over 5 1/3 innings. Kiko Calero got the last two outs of the sixth, and Huston Street returned to action -- he missed the previous 11 games with a strained pectoral muscle -- to work a perfect seventh before handing off to Justin Duchscherer, who pitched a shutout eighth.
"Halsey, that was a great effort by him," Macha said. "And the bullpen came through again."
The A's blew the game open in the top of the ninth, which Dan Johnson opened with a double to right-center field. After Bobby Kielty drew a one-out walk, Ellis was hit to load the bases, and Swisher's sacrifice fly made it 5-3. A walk to Chavez reloaded the bases, Thomas followed with a two-run single to left, and Bobby Crosby capped the scoring with a three-run homer to left.
"It was nice to see the guys bust out there at the end," Kendall said. "It seems like we never have any breathing room against these guys."
Gaudin wrapped up the win with a shutout the ninth, but not before hitting Quinlan. Macha insisted that there was no intent behind the pitch, but Scioscia vehemently disagreed and earned himself an early exit.
"I think it was pretty obvious that Robb Quinlan got hit on purpose, and I don't know why that would be," Scioscia said. "We are dumbfounded what that message would be, but it was pretty obvious that he was hit on purpose."
Not to Scott. "In my opinion, it got away from him," he said. "Obviously, we differ in our opinions. He'd been disgruntled since the sixth inning, so it was time for him to go."
And given the tone of the day, it was probably a good thing that the A's got out of town after the game, too. The A's and Angels play 14 more time this year, but the next meeting won't come until the Halos roll into Oakland on July 7.
"I like every guy over there [in the Angels clubhouse]. There's not a single one of them I don't like," Chavez insisted. "But I'm sure this won't be the end of it. That's for sure."