J.P. Howell landed two of the best punches in Tuesday night's Dodgers-Diamondbacks brawl, cranking his closed right fist into the ribs of Diamondbacks assistant hitting coach Turner Ward as the melee began at Dodger Stadium. Howell then drove Ward roughly 15 feet past the dirt and halfway over the railing along the camera well.
“I just wanted to make sure I’ve got him pinned and not me because I’ve been in that situation before and it’s not fun,” Howell said Wednesday.
Howell experienced his share of scraps on the basketball court growing up in Modesto and with fraternity brothers as a freshman at Texas. But those don’t compare to bench-clearing brawls in the majors, he said. Howell likened Wednesday's brawl to a Red Sox-Devil Rays skirmish on June 5, 2008, when he played for the Rays. Coco Crisp and James Shields were at the center of that one, while Howell remained mostly outside the fray.
This time, it was Howell at the heart of the shoving. He and the rest of the relievers immediately looked for departing Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy, who was promptly ejected after hitting Dodgers starter Zack Greinke on the top of his left shoulder with a pitch. But Kennedy was quickly ushered by coaches and teammates into the tunnel as the relievers joined the raucous mob in front of the visitor’s dugout.
“You just keep your head on a swivel because it can get weird,” Howell said. “You just try to defend your guys, and if something happens you want to get in there and help him out.”
Howell saw Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario tangling with Ward and worked his way to them. As Ward moved toward him and hunched over, Howell pressed his left hand on the top of Ward’s back. He grabbed Ward’s jersey and lifted him up while sweeping the pair of punches into his side.
“You don’t know who’s who and what’s what,” Howell said. “You just react and that’s what happened. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get got. And that was it.”
Howell rammed Ward head-first over the railing, Ward’s wedding ring pressing right in front of the television camera. As Howell began to flip him over, Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero swooped in and threw Howell off him.
After all was said and done and the Dodgers closed out a 5-3 victory, Howell went home, but two images stood out in his mind: Yasiel Puig getting grazed in the nose with a pitch in the sixth and Greinke getting plunked high in the seventh.
“I kept seeing Greinke getting hit in the face, in the head,” Howell said, adding that he got goosebumps when Puig hopped up and jogged to first base.
But this morning, there was a rejuvenated aura in the clubhouse, Howell said. Last night’s tremendous victory gives the Dodgers a chance to win their second series since May 22.
“There’s a lot more energy, but we’ve got to get back to playing baseball, and that’s the key,” Howell said.