Long before they became teammates with the Boston Red Sox, Mitch Moreland and Kevin Pillar were on opposite ends of an epic baseball brawl.
Fighting is rare in Major League Baseball. Usually a scuffle on the field amounts to a lot of squawking and shoving from guys trying to act tough but it typically doesn’t escalate to any real violence. Most players are smart enough to realize it’s not worth the risk of injury or suspension. There’s also the potential for that awkward situation where the guy you were fighting one day becomes your teammate another day down the line. That’s the position Mitch Moreland and Kevin Pillar were in when they arrived in camp with the Boston Red Sox this spring.
Neither player was a member of the Red Sox at the time, but both were involved in one of the most memorable brawls in recent MLB history. Moreland was with the hometown Texas Rangers when they hosted Pillar’s Toronto Blue Jays on May 15, 2016.
The melee began when Jays outfielder Jose Bautista made a hard slide into second base to break up a double-play. Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor took exception to what he deemed to be a dirty play and he let Bautista know it with a forceful shove. An angry Bautista didn’t back down, getting right int he face of his opponent. That’s when fists began to fly. Odor threw the first punch and chaos ensued as both benches cleared to storm the field.
Pillar raced out of the Jays dugout on a mission to find Odor but he was intercepted by Moreland who briefly wrestled him into a headlock. Pillar managed to break free but the path to his target was blocked on the crowded field. Cooler heads managed to settle down the mob and the fire quickly fizzled out.
Former Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre, then with the Rangers, was one of those peacekeepers. He held Bautista back to discouraging him from jumping back in the fight and helped escort him back toward the Toronto dugout. Classy move by a respected veteran.
Clips of the brawl spread across social media this week on the anniversary of the event. WEEI’s Rob Bradford spoke with Moreland about the incident and the Red Sox infielder vividly recalls his role and the interaction with Pillar.
"“KP came running in there wide open and I was like, ‘This dude looks crazy like he’s trying to go get somebody. I have to slow him down.’ Then I looked up and I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s Pillar.’ You talk to guys over at first and I liked this guy,” recalled Moreland. “We just hugged it out a little bit. Then when let go of him he looked up, looked at me and we shook it off and went back into the pile. We talked about in spring training. He said he has a good picture of it at home.”"
These players haven’t forgotten about their fight but it appears the matter has been forgiven. They know there was no real animosity between them personally. Both were on the field to protect their teammates. When push comes to shove, the players in the clubhouse know they have each others backs. Moreland and Pillar found themselves on opposite sides four years ago but they both know they can count on each other now that they are on the same team.
Moreland left Texas after that season to join the Red Sox in 2017. Many expected him to move on as a free agent last winter since Boston was looking to slash payroll and showed little interest in retaining their players when they hit the open market. Surprisingly, Moreland took a steep pay cut to return on a 1-year, $2.5 million deal that includes a $3 million team option for 2021.
Pillar spent most of his career in Toronto until a trade sent him to the San Francisco Giants last April. He returned to the AL East by signing a 1-year, $4.25 million deal with the Red Sox. He provides a right-handed bat to complement Boston’s lefty-heavy outfield.
It remains to be seen if either player will stick around beyond this season but at least for one year, Moreland and Pillar expect to be teammates. There doesn’t appear to be any bad blood stemming from their dust up a few years ago so there’s no reason to believe their history will harm the clubhouse chemistry.