“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his foot coming.” — Red Barons catcher Jeremy Salazar
The date: July 3, 2001
The place: McCoy Stadium (Pawtucket, R.I.)
The situation: In the early 2000s, there was no hitter in the International League more dangerous than Pawtucket’s Izzy Alcantara, especially to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Nor was there a player more mercurial, or one who raised the ire of Red Barons pitchers more.
So in the eighth inning of a game the Red Barons led by seven runs and had firmly in hand, the fireworks started a day early at McCoy Stadium, with arguably the most infamous fight in the history of minor league baseball.
The lead-in: What happened in the eighth inning at McCoy that night didn’t start in the eighth inning at McCoy that night.
On May 1, 2001, in a game at Lackawanna County Stadium, Alcantara launched two of the most impressive home runs ever hit at the ballpark at the foot of Montage Mountain. The first one arched high and deep over the old blue batter’s eye in center field, a landmark few sluggers outside of Darryl Strawberry regularly challenged. The second one, in the sixth inning, may have gone even further, a tremendous blast over that same batter’s eye that tied the game, 4-4. No player had ever cleared it twice in the same game.
“The first one was a bomb,” Red Barons center fielder Reggie Taylor said. “When he hit the second one, I was like, ‘No way!’ He did it two times in a row in the same spot. … That’s the type of ball I dream about hitting.”
Even including Taylor, nobody appeared as impressed with Alcantara’s prowess as Alcantara, judging by his methodical trudge around the bases.
When he came to bat in the eighth inning, with the Red Barons leading comfortably, Alcantara was greeted with a fastball to the back from lefty reliever Pete Zamora. Alcantara, angrily, took first. Zamora got ejected.
“I don’t even know who he is,” Zamora said of Alcantara. “I’m new here this year. I made a mistake. If he wants to pout about it, that’s fine.”
“They got me once,” Alcantara said. “But I got them twice.”
Alcantara’s questionable attitude preceded him — he had been benched by Boston manager Jimy Williams a season earlier for a perceived lack of hustle, then sent down and never recalled — but it would be forever tarnished once he met the Red Barons next in Pawtucket.
The moment: Even Alcantara — who was challenging for the International League’s triple crown in 2001 — couldn’t seem to help the PawSox that Tuesday night.
The Red Barons were up a touchdown, as they say. There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, with nobody on base. Right-hander Blas Cedeno was on the mound for the Red Barons, trying to close out the inning and send the game to the ninth.
The first pitch of the at-bat, a two-seam fastball, sailed high and a bit inside to the 6-foot-2 Alcantara. The second, catcher Jeremy Salazar later said, was no worse than belt-high and just a bit inside.
Only, Alcantara took exception.
In a moment that belies explanation, Alcantara darted out of the way of a pitch that didn’t seem particularly close to hitting him, then kicked Salazar in the facemask with his right foot before charging at Cedeno, his fists flying.
“(Alcantara’s foot) was on my mask before I could move,” Salazar said. “It’s just one of those things you never see happen. It was uncouth, maybe. Out of respect for the game you never do something like that. Unfortunately, it happened.”
Alcantara threw a wild haymaker in Cedeno’s direction, but the young right-hander slipped it. Surrounded by Red Barons infielders on the mound, 6-foot-4 third baseman Kevin Orie lunged toward Alcantara’s legs and tackled him, subduing the slugger until umpires and teammates could separate the piles.Despite some yelling back and forth between Alcantara and Zamora, there were no more punches thrown.
But the damage to the reputation of one of the best hitters in the IL was done.
HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
Neither side was particularly happy with the scope of the punishments that got handed out after the incident.
Alcantara was suspended six games and fined $900 for kicking Salazar and charging Cedeno. Some on the Red Barons side felt it too lenient a punishment. International League president Randy Mobley also decided to remove Alcantara from the International League’s entry in the 2001 Triple-A All-Star Game for his actions. He had been voted into the game as the starting designated hitter.
Orie was saddled with a three-game suspension and $400 fine for tackling Alcantara, and Red Sox reliever Jesus Pena got the same deal for kicking Orie while he was on the ground.
“If I get three and he gets six, well, I don’t agree with one of those two,” Orie said, shaking his head. “I did a very small part compared to what he did.”
The incident is still one of the most-viewed minor league baseball brawls online. Even though YouTube wasn’t founded until nearly four years after Alcantara’s foot connected with Salazar’s facemask, there are several videos of the incident posted on the popular video streaming sit. One has more than 1.1 million views.
The Red Sox moved on from Alcantara after the 2001 season despite his prolific minor league numbers. The Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a minor-league deal, and he hit 27 homers for Indianapolis that season while getting 16 games in with the Brewers. But after the campaign, he spent the next five seasons kicking around professional leagues in Japan and Mexico, never finding another shot in affiliated ball again.