SAN FRANCISCO -- Eighty-two losses.
Seventeen games to go.
They won't matter, just as the past month didn't matter in competitive baseball terms for this Pirates club. It's a disappointing season, even historically bad at times. With the 5-4 loss to the Giants on this Tuesday night at Oracle Park, they locked down their 23rd losing season in the past 27 years, the eighth in 12 years under this front office. That same stretch has brought the team three brief playoff appearances and precisely zero division titles.
It's the type of continuous, never-ending, heartbreaking defeat that could drive a player to fight a teammate.
In the clubhouse.
Before a game.
The early word came during Game 2 with the press of a button from a Pirates email blast, stating Kyle Crick's season was done after having extensor tendon repair surgery on his right index finger. The reason?
“The injury occurred as a result of an altercation with Felipe Vazquez in the Pirates clubhouse prior to Monday’s game versus the San Francisco Giants," the email read. And it was signed by Neal Huntington. “The behavior exhibited by these two players last night is unacceptable, inconsistent with the standards expected of a Major League player and will not be tolerated by the organization."
Vazquez pitched Monday night, earning his 26th save of the year, and was available Tuesday if needed in the wake of the incident.
After the game Tuesday, Crick was quick to own up to the situation. He called media to his locker — a rare invite initiated by a player — saying, "Come on over" with a wave of his hand before he broke it all down.
"You know, it's just one of those clubhouse altercations, a lot of bickering back and forth," Crick began. "Punches were thrown, and you kind of have to, at some point, stand up for yourself and start throwing 'em back. So it's one of those deals where, you know, it's unfortunate. There are two losers in this deal. Nobody can win a fight with a teammate."
Crick was asked if Vazquez threw punches at him first.
The reporters on hand, myself included, then approached Vazquez's locker and waited on him to finish getting dressed before going any further. But before that could happen ...
"Why do you want to talk to me? You already got all you need," Vazquez said with a nod in Crick's direction.
He began to walk toward the clubhouse exit and, when a member of the team's media relations staff double-checked to make sure he didn't want the opportunity to express his side, he kept walking. Right out of the clubhouse.
The subject arose in the manager's postgame press gathering, as well.
"I'm not concerned with the chemistry. I have concerns about three individual incidents that have gone on this year," Clint Hurdle said in his office after the game. "I've been here nine years, and we've had none. We've had three this year."
• July 22: Keone Kela suspended two games by the team for a "violation of his uniform player’s contract" stemming from an altercation with Hector Morales, the team's director of cultural readiness and peak performance coach.
• July 30: Bullpen coach Euclides Rojas gets an identical two-game suspension after an altercation with Crick.
• Sept. 9: This one.
"We spoke to the club today," Hurdle continued. "We had a conversation. We've visited, internally, as a family, when challenges are there, how do you meet them? How do you rise above them? And anytime you have a family that spends a lot of time together like teams do in sport, in life, nobody likes when it happens. Unfortunately, it does happen. What can you learn from it? Can you put yourself in a better position for it not to happen again?"
That's where, Hurdle added, he feels it's his duty to push a more positive direction.
"That comes on my plate as everything else under my leadership title," Hurdle said. "And I'm looking for ways to obviously be able to make a difference or provide a better understanding of the standards that we need to have in place, that need to be followed."
For Crick's part, he said he felt the fight actually helped matters moving forward.
"In a way, I think a scuffle like that can hasten the process of moving forward because we kind of got it out of the way," Crick said. "We've been bickering for a little bit and I think this is something we can easily get past and mutually respect one another."
For the full context, though, you have to sprinkle in those 82 losses. The bullpen's been volatile all season. We know that, and we've seen those suspensions play out, as outlined above. But fighting a teammate, throwing punches before a game? That was a slow burn fueled by this no-good 2019 season, according to Crick.
"I don't know if anything really started it," Crick said of the tension between himself and Vazquez. "It's just kind of one of those things over the course of a season. It's been a tough season all around, so frustration's pretty high all around. It got to a boiling point and kind of tipped over."
But, I asked, does he feel it's over now?
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