SAN FRANCISCO — In the middle of the visitors clubhouse, Shane Victorino adjusted his cufflinks and prepared to speak. He was calm now, but agitated. His teammates had already rushed inside to watch replays of the brawl between the Giants. They laughed, yelled and smiled. A 9-2 victory over San Francisco was sweeter than usual.
"What a game," said Brian Schneider, the one who ended up on the bottom of the pile. "An intense game."
Victorino monitored his comments now. For sure, he said, Ramon Ramirez was throwing at him on purpose. Anyone could see that. Victorino took a few steps toward the mound after taking a 92 m.p.h. fastball in the back and Giants catcher Eli Whiteside ran in front of him and started jumping.
"I just wanted to go out there and get an answer," Victorino said. "I had no intentions of charging the mound. I did step forward. Obviously Eli thought I was going to go and he started jumping around. [Placido] Polanco came in and he tackled Polanco and everything escalated from there."
Polanco, seated at a nearby table eating pineapple, put down his fork.
"He didn't tackle me!" Polanco yelled.
Yes, this was sweet. They will remember this as the night a rivalry was cemented. The seeds were planted long before Ramirez fired the fastball at Victorino's back, prior to Whiteside's excited jumps, and Victorino's mad dash into Hensley Meulens.
No, the Phillies and Giants do not care for one another. More than a week ago, Charlie Manuel publicly challenged his team by dissing the Giants top pitchers. Tim Lincecum and this city took exception, suggesting an inferiority complex in Philadelphia. Most importantly, each of these teams know they must conquer the other to win a pennant. Hatred is easily bred.
That the Phillies demolished San Francisco at AT&T Park on Friday was almost secondary by its end. They have won eight in a row, possess the majors' best record, and an 8.5-game lead in their division. Little drama remains in the regular season.
This is all about October.
The Giants blitzed Citizens Bank Park by taking two of three last week. That rattled the insecurity of a fan base in Philadelphia, only for the Phillies to win every game since that series.
Friday's game was hardly in doubt. When Victorino stepped to the plate in the sixth inning, the Phillies had a six-run lead. Ramirez had already allowed three runs in the inning and two consecutive singles. The game had devolved into a rout. Ramirez wasted little time in creating a circus.
He drilled Victorino on his back. Immediately, Victorino knew the fastball's intent. He started slowly toward the mound as Whiteside, the Giants' catcher, ran in front of him. Whiteside, apparently looking for a fight, started hopping. Polanco approached the area and Whiteside went for his knees. Hunter Pence jumped in to defend his teammate. The benches emptied.
"He hit Vic and then came off the mound at him," Manuel said. "Vic almost has to go, unless he wants his teammates to call him chicken. That's the way baseball works. I've been playing for almost 50 years. He pretty much called him out."
Victorino was enraged. He was first restrained by home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski and never reached his target in Ramirez. Victorino pushed Muchlinski aside and then was held back by hitting coach Greg Gross. That proved futile.
Victorino escaped Gross' grab and ran with reckless abandon into the pile. He made contact with Meulens, the San Francisco hitting coach, and the two tumbled to the grass.
"I didn't throw any punches," Victorino said. "I don't know what happened in the skirmish. When I entered the pile a second time, I noticed that our catcher was being grabbed so I went back in to try to get him free. I had no intention of trying to hurt anybody, but I felt like Carlos [Ruiz] was in a position where I felt like I needed to go in and try to help him get away."
Finally, Victorino was corralled by Manuel. The manager pulled him away from the scrum as the rest disengaged. Brian Schneider was red-faced. Roy Oswalt wore a huge grin. The fans cheered.
"It was a regular brawl," Polanco said. "It's not the first one you're going to see and it's not going to be the last one."
Victorino, Whiteside and Ramirez were tossed. Suspensions and fines are likely to follow.
Victorino said he hopes nothing will carry over.
"I understand the situation in the game," he said. "Hey, there's a lot of emotions. But it is what it is. It's two good teams going at it. We were battling. My whole thing is just leave it on the field. Let's go play. I hope it's squashed. I have no intentions of retaliating."
The Phillies saw no need for such thing. As they shook hands on the infield to celebrate victory, the seagulls circled a silent ballpark, and that was enough satisfaction.