Fight Night 1999: Perez vs. Byrd

US PRESSWIRE

Date: July 30, 1999

Setting: Turner Field - Atlanta, GA

The first-place Braves were fighting to keep their slim half-game lead in the NL East against the visiting Phillies. John Smoltz was on the mound, but he had given up four runs in three innings. The game had already seen some excitement in that Bobby Cox was ejected for arguing a double play call in the third inning, and the stadium suffered a 16-minute power outage. Leading off the bottom of the third was catcher Eddie Perez, stepping in against Paul Byrd, who had been teammates with Perez for two years prior and whom Byrd considered a friend; their lockers were right next to each other, after all. This was the second start in a week for Byrd against the Braves: just five days earlier, he was tagged for three home runs in a six-inning start at Philadelphia.

In that start, Byrd hit Perez in the back with a pitch in his first plate appearance of the game. Neither made a serious issue of it at the time, but now it's a different story. Fast forward to the 30th, and in Perez's first plate appearance, Byrd again plunks Perez but on the first pitch. Perez glares at Byrd and shouts some choice words at him, but no fighting ensues. Yet.

It should have been over with [after Smoltz hit Arias]. Some guys need to take a class and learn how to play the game. - Curt Schilling

The next half-inning, Smoltz retaliates by hitting Alex Arias, but is ejected without warning by home plate umpire Jerry Meals. Smoltz was so infuriated that he needed to be restrained, later saying, "It was a joke. He (Meals) has no business throwing me out without warning." Byrd was the next hitter, and Perez took that opportunity to give him a piece of his mind. Words were exchanged, Perez stuck his glove in Byrd's face, and it was on. Both benches and bullpens emptied; Curt Schilling attempted to wrestle Perez off Byrd, but instead wound up at the bottom of the pile. Doug Glanville was the Phillies center fielder at the time, and he wrote in an op-ed piece for the NY Times that Ozzie Guillen tried pulling him out of the fracas by his head, leaving him with a stiff neck.

Amidst all the brawling, however, Glanville notes that instead of pummeling each other, Perez and Byrd were in the middle of the pile praying. You see, Byrd is a Christian and has spoken of entering the ministry. He and Perez were Bible study partners, which makes this melee seem a bit odd. Ned Yost, who was Atlanta's third base coach at the time, was another one of Byrd's study partners, but during the fight had Byrd in a headlock.

Once the dust settled, Perez was the only player ejected, and the Phillies eventually won the game 9-2, dropping the Braves out of first place. As we all know, however, they rebounded to win the division.

Other sources: philly.com

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