PHOENIX -- A full-out brawl between Canada and Mexico during the ninth inning of Saturday's World Baseball Classic contest at Chase Field was attributed to a misunderstanding about the tiebreaking rules in the first round, round-robin format that places a premium on the number of runs scored.
With Canada leading by six runs on its way to a 10-3 win, catcher Chris Robinson pushed a clean bunt single toward third base that was played by Luis Cruz. After the play, Cruz walked toward the mound and appeared to gesture for right-hander Arnold Leon to hit the next batter, Rene Tosoni.
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It took three pitches and a warning by home-plate umpire Brian Gorman to both benches, but Leon hit Tosoni on the shoulder and both benches cleared. In the end, seven players were ejected. Four of them were from Team Mexico -- Leon, Oliver Perez, Eduardo Arredondo and Alfredo Aceves. The three Canadians to be ejected were Tosoni, Pete Orr and Jay Johnson.
"It was just simply, I think, a misunderstanding," Mexico manager Rick Renteria said. "In a normal professional setting, I should say, a 9-3 bunt in that particular situation would be kind of out of the ordinary. But based on the rules that have been established in this tournament -- the run differentials and things of that nature -- those things may occur. And I think in just the heat of the moment, you lose sight of it and maybe that's how it occurred. It was just a misunderstanding."
Renteria defended Cruz, but all of the key players in the incident were not available to comment.
"Really, I would say that you would have to ask him, but that being said, none of the guys want to speak right now," Renteria said. "They would rather calm down and compose themselves. That question is assuming a fact, and I think that you guys are going to have to find out later on. That said, did he say that? I doubt it."
The Round 1 rules provide that in the case of a three-way tie after each team has played three games, to advance to the second round, a complex equation is used, factoring in runs scored per inning played on offense minus runs allowed per inning on defense in the games involving only those teams.
Thus, a premium is placed on winning games as well as scoring as many runs as possible. That means a steal or bunt -- while classically inappropriate in a typical Major League game that unfolds in this manner -- might be essential in this tournament to a team moving on.
"In this tournament, it's, 'You play baseball like every inning is 0-0.' That's the unfortunate thing," Canada's manager, Ernie Whitt, said. "What happened tonight is because of the rulings that they have. Regular baseball, during the season, you would never see that happening. But because of the run differential that they have, you play it like a 0-0 game the whole time. I mean, they stole the base in the eighth inning. They're down six or seven runs. Why do you do it? I mean, it's unfortunate what happened. It happened. They need to take a look at that."
World Baseball Classic Inc., made up of individuals from MLB and the MLB Players' Association, issued a statement saying suspensions would not be issued:
"We are extremely disappointed in the bench-clearing incident that marred the conclusion of today's game between Canada and Mexico. The episode runs counter to the spirit of sportsmanship and respectful competition for which the World Baseball Classic has stood throughout its history.
"After communicating with both the Mexican and Canadian baseball federations this evening, we are aware of the perspectives held by both sides in a competitive environment. Nevertheless, we relayed to both teams that such an altercation is inappropriate under any circumstances and has no place in baseball.
"Because at least one club -- and potentially both -- will not advance to the second round, WBCI has determined that disciplinary measures would not have a meaningful corrective impact. Thus, discipline will not be imposed beyond today's seven game ejections. It is our firm expectation that the members of Team Mexico, Team Canada and all the tournament's participating teams will learn from this incident and set a better example -- one that befits the sport they share -- in the future."
After Tosoni was hit by the pitch, he headed toward the mound, and suddenly both bullpens and benches emptied and a lengthy scrum intensified. Punches were thrown, and Johnson body-slammed Arredondo to the turf, delivering several blows to his face.
Just when it seemed like everything had calmed down, a Canadian player egged on the pro-Mexico crowd on his way back to the first-base dugout by raising his arms as if to welcome their derision. Soon after, a bottle flew out of the stands and hit Canadian coach Denis Boucher on the face. Canada shortstop Cale Iorg threw the bottle back into the stands.
In the bottom of the ninth inning with Mexico at bat, a fan threw a baseball onto the field in the direction of Canada's first-base coach, Larry Walker, but it did not hit Walker. Whitt then told Gorman that he would pull his players off the field if order was not restored.
After a public-address announcement threatened to forfeit the game, there were no further incidents and the game ended quietly when Ramiro Pena grounded out to Joey Votto at first.
Both managers said there were no injuries, despite all of the pushing, shoving and punching that occurred.
"You can't hurt us; we're Canadians," Whitt said to some laughter during the postgame news conference.
The results left Mexico with a slight chance of advancing in the tournament to Miami's Marlins Park, where play will begin on Tuesday. In that event, Canada, Mexico and the United States would all have to finish play on Sunday with 1-2 records, and that's when the three-way run-differential tiebreaker would kick in.
The second round uses a double-elimination format, meaning that the first pair of the four teams to lose two games would be out.
The single-elimination semifinals and final game are from March 17-19 at San Francisco's AT&T Park.
Still, Whitt said he'd like to see the first-round rules changed.
"There's got to be another method other than scoring runs, running up the score on the opposing team," Whitt said. "No one likes that. That's not the way baseball's supposed to be played. There's a professionalism that we're all accustomed to here in North America. And unfortunately, teams are knocked out of the tournament because other teams run up the score on them. Unfortunately, that's what you have to deal with when you have that type of format."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.