Commentary

Upton call draws ire of bottle-heaving fans

Originally Published: October 11, 2007
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- All the talk about the D-backs' lackadaisical fans leading up to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series must have irked those sitting in left field Thursday night, because temporary mayhem ensued when spectators started heaving their bottles onto Chase Field.

Play was officially suspended for eight minutes in the bottom of the seventh inning, with Rockies manager Clint Hurdle waving his team back to the dugout. Colorado went on to a 5-1 win over its divisional rival to take a 1-0 series lead. But it is the bottle throwing that may generate the game's biggest headline.

"There just comes a time when you need to make a point that enough's enough," Hurdle said.

The play that drew fans' ire started with runners on first and second with no outs. Arizona's Augie Ojeda hit a grounder to Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins, who promptly threw to second. Justin Upton slid hard into Kaz Matsui to break up a potential double play, but Upton hit the second baseman's leg with his shoulder. Second-base umpire Larry Vanover ruled that Upton interfered with Matsui and called both him and Ojeda out. Chris Snyder, who had advanced to third base, was forced to return to second.

Kaz Matsui and Justin Upton
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJustin Upton, right, clipped Kaz Matsui's leg with his right shoulder, resulting in an interference call and a shower of thrown water bottles.
"I was close enough to the bag, and that's what I'm supposed to do," Upton said.

Vanover, for his part, said Upton intentionally went after Matsui.

"I thought he threw his hip into the guy, and his intent at that point is not to get to the base," he said. "His intent is to crash into the pivot man, so you've got obvious intent there."

What proceeded was a hail of boos, then bottles -- some of them filled with beer -- raining down from the upper deck in left field, just to the left of Arizona's bullpen, as well as right field too. All Hurdle needed was one look at Matt Holliday, his left fielder and MVP candidate, standing in the line of fire to call his team off the field.

Holliday seemed unimpressed with the spectacle.

"It wasn't that big a deal; I wasn't necessarily scared at all," he said, then added with a facetious tone, "I'll take my chances. I lift weights for a reason. Mayhem starts breaking out on the field, I'll just jump in there and muscle them."

Though the official attendance was 48,142, when the first pitch was thrown, there were thousands of empty seats, an embarrassment for a championship series game. Most of the seats were eventually filled, but that didn't mean the scalpers were having much success.

Fans
AP Photo/David J. PhillipThe Arizona fans, many of whom came late, suddenly awoke and made their presence felt in the bottom of the seventh inning.

For an environment that usually doesn't elicit much intensity, watching the bottles hurled onto the field was a strange sight for most of the players.

"I was shocked because I've never seen anything like that from these fans," said Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes, who said it was equally bad in right field, where his team's bullpen is. "It didn't show very much class. ... Usually, I would expect that out of Shea [Stadium] or Philly."

While the fan display was rare, it was not unprecedented for a LCS.

A nasty fight broke out between Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson in Game 3 of the 1973 NLCS, after a hard slide during a double play in the fifth inning.

Mets fans at Shea threw objects at Rose when he went out to the field, prompting Reds manager Sparky Anderson to pull his team. Mets players went out to the stands and told fans to stop, and New York eventually won the game, 9-2.

A lasting image of this night may be of the Rockies, crouching on the bench in their dugout, out of harm's way. It was a scene reminiscent of a Dominican Republic winter league game, where fans routinely get rowdy.

"In the Dominican, they throw Brugal [rum] bottles, which are glass," said Arizona left fielder Eric Byrnes, a veteran of the Dominican winter leagues. "It's a common occurrence down there. I've been hit with one. [Tonight] may have been a little overreacting."

Not to Hurdle, and not to the new-look Arizona fans, who were more than happy to express their frustration and let the country know that they do have a voice -- even if it comes in the form of flying bottles.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

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