BOSTON -- It was at once comic and ugly, a brawl that epitomized the heat of the game.
For more than half a century, Yankees coach Don Zimmer has been in the middle of almost everything in baseball. So no one should have been surprised to see him in the middle of things again Saturday when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox rumbled about pitches too close to the head.
Yet even by the 72-year-old Zimmer's standards, this clash was a wonderment to watch.
There he was, bald and bejowled, racing around the mob of players on the field and throwing a wild left hook at Red Sox ace pitcher Pedro Martinez. And there was Martinez, 41 years younger, grabbing Zimmer by the ears and tossing him headfirst to the ground.
There was nothing funny initially about this little brawl, as Zimmer lay on the ground and worried Yankees clustered around him. Zimmer, after all, once was so seriously beaned by a pitch in the minor leagues that he had surgery on his skull.
Zimmer had to have a hole in his head to go after Martinez. And Martinez had to have a few screws loose to throw Zimmer down instead of just stepping out of the way.
"I think Zim's a little old for that," Boston manager Grady Little said.
Both teams got caught up in the emotion of the moment after Boston's Manny Ramirez started shouting, with bat in hand, after a high, slightly inside fastball by New York pitcher Roger Clemens.
Truth be told, the pitch wasn't close to hitting Ramirez and he had no business taking issue with Clemens. More likely, Ramirez simply was making a fuss to try to get Clemens thrown out after an earlier umpire's warning to both benches following a pitch by Martinez that hit Yankee batter Karim Garcia.
It doesn't take much to ignite the fiercest rivalry in baseball.
The whole nasty affair, which loomed large in a game that New York won 4-3 to take a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, started in the top of the fourth.
"There's no question in my mind that Pedro hit him on purpose," Yankees' manager Joe Torre said. "I didn't care for that."
None of the Yankees did, especially the fiery Zimmer.
Zimmer is particularly close to Clemens, and when Ramirez went after the pitcher, Zimmer made a beeline toward Martinez.
Zimmer didn't win that battle. He came away with only a cut on the bridge of his nose and could laugh about it later, though he was taken after the game to a hospital for examination of a sprained left hip. He rejoined the team later, satisfied that he had sent a message that even the oldest of the Yankees wasn't about to be intimidated.
"That's Zim. He's got more fire than half those guys in the dugout," Clemens said. "That's why I love him. He's one of the funnest guys around. But he's dead serious."
The Yankees weren't shocked to see Zimmer get so angry so quickly.
"I was more surprised to see Zim get across the field that fast," Jason Giambi said.
Boston police said later they were investigating a ninth-inning fight between two Yankees and a Fenway Park worker who was cheering for the Red Sox in the New York bullpen.
Red Sox spokesman Charles Steinberg said Paul Williams, who works for the grounds crew, contended Yankees Jeff Nelson and Garcia attacked him. The Yankees denied the players were to blame.
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.