Inside the visitor’s clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field, the sight of so much acrimony the night before, the Royals sought calm. The pregame playlist was mellow, acoustic rock. At one point, during a break between songs, outfielder Lorenzo Cain crooned a croaky, a cappella rendition of Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” He would later chuckle when asked about his fistfight with White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
Once again, the Royals sought to turn the page back to baseball and away from their succession of on-field scuffles. The incident on Thursday was the worst of the bunch. Five players were ejected, including Chicago starter Chris Sale. Afterward, Sale stormed the Royals clubhouse looking to fight Yordano Ventura, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
Sale refused to deny the story to reporters. Several Royals confirmed Sale visited their clubhouse, though most declined to discuss the details. “I didn’t see it,” said Edinson Volquez, who was also ejected in the brawl. “But somebody told me he was knocking on the door.”
The tension cooled in time, and the Royals celebrated their extra-innings victory like any other. But they awoke to a world where their actions remained under scrutiny. The schedule on Friday called for a baseball game. The Royals sought to simply play one, rather than take part in another evening filled with drama.
In the coming days, players like Ventura, Volquez and Cain could face suspensions from Major League Baseball. Now the club finds itself in a curious place. Manager Ned Yost continues to defend the behavior of his players, despite the ugly optics of these incidents. Yost referenced how Samardzija hit Cain with a pitch on opening day, how the Brett Lawrie of the A’s took out Alcides Escobar with a slide, how Oakland’s Scott Kazmir hit Cain, how the White Sox’s Adam Eaton jawed with Ventura on Thursday.
“You go back and look at all this, and we didn’t start any of it,” Yost said. “None of it, with the exception of what happened in Anaheim. And nothing happened. Nobody got beaned. Nobody fought. That was our fault. But everything else, we didn’t start any of it.”
Yet the players understand something must change. The controversy called into question the emotional maturity of Ventura and the perils of the Royals’ aggressive, exuberant style. It also created a litmus test for how the clubhouse will respond to the absence of starter James Shields. During the past two seasons, the players turned to Shields in moments of crisis. With Shields gone, the team is striving to fill the void.
Veterans such as Jeremy Guthrie, Volquez and Alex Rios have counseled some of the younger players about how to rectify the situation. Guthrie spoke with Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer and empowered them to take command of the room. A few veterans acknowledged the provocation by the White Sox and Samardzija, but lamented their own club’s response.
“It needs to stop,” Rios said. “We need to start playing baseball like civilized people.”
Reached by phone, general manager Dayton Moore declined to condemn Ventura, and commended his club for doing “an incredible job of managing some of the things that have came their way, early on in the season,” Moore said. “It’s not unexpected. When you win, those types of things happen. People are coming for you. That’s part of it.”
He added, “They love to play. They play with passion. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things as a professional. Our guys realize that. Now you have to go out and do it.”
Royals officials commended the behavior of both Hosmer and Moustakas on Thursday. Hosmer mentioned how tiring these scrapes had become. Moustakas tried his best to defuse Thursday’s seventh-inning skirmish.
As Eaton jogged down the first-base line, he yelled at Ventura. Ventura swore at Eaton. Umpires separated the two. Then Moustakas swooped in to remove Ventura from the gathering storm.
“You don’t really ever want it to escalate to that point,” Moustakas said. “I was trying to get Ace out of there. He’s a young, emotional guy. He pitches with his heart on his sleeve. The last thing you want to see is anybody get hurt, especially the ace on our staff.”
Ventura has been ejected in his last two starts. He drilled Lawrie with a 99-mph fastball last Saturday. After he received a fine from Major League Baseball, Ventura vowed to avoid situations like this. Volquez spoke with him about the need for levelheadedness on the mound.
And yet, of course, there was Volquez taking a wild swing at Samardzija on Thursday. Volquez said he “was out of control” during the fight.
“If we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight together,” Volquez said. “If we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose together. If we’re going to win, we together. We’re in the same boat.”
To continue Volquez’s metaphor, the Royals sought calmer waters Friday. As players like Hosmer and Cain spoke to reporters, Danny Duffy tried to distract them by singing along with an Ed Sheeran song. They would try to stay loose, as best they could.
“We play hard,” Cain said. “We play with emotion. Maybe we do need to tone it down a little bit. But at the same time, we’re going to play hard for each other, because that’s just how he play. That’s how we do things.”