Before a 2-1 pitch from Ray right-hander Esteban Yan, Mariner leadoff hitter Mark McLemore called a timeout, granted by plate umpire Bill Welke, and backed from the left-handed batter's box. Yan completed his windup and directed a pitch - or so it seemed - at McLemore's legs.
Twenty minutes elapsed before another pitch was thrown, by which time McLemore and Mariner reliever Arthur Rhodes had been ejected and Yan - who was not thrown out - sufficiently ruffled to be lifted from the game.
"I threw the pitch to the ground," Yan insisted. "I don't want to hurt anybody on purpose."
McLemore saw it differently. He charged the mound immediately, threw his helmet at Yan - "I missed him," he said regretfully - and tackled the bigger player.
"He did what he wanted to do," McLemore said. "He chose to throw the ball at me, so I chose to do what I did."
Said Mariner Manager Lou Piniella, "It seemed to me that he threw the ball at the hitter."
Mariner shortstop Alex Rodriguez added, "For (Yan) to go out and try to end somebody's career when somebody's not been looking, there's no room for that kind of crap in the game of baseball."
Consensus in the Tampa Bay clubhouse was that the Mariners had stepped out of the batter's box on Yan previously and that he might have risked injury by not throwing the ball.
"I didn't want to stop and hurt my shoulder," Yan said. "I threw it soft - 81 miles per hour."
McLemore said the ball didn't hit him. Nor did anything seriously physical happen in the melee that followed. Among the peacemakers in the middle were two of the larger players, the Rays' Jose Canseco and the Mariners' Jay Buhner.
Rhodes said he was pushed from behind by Canseco as he tried to mediate for McLemore and Yan, a former teammate. Canseco conceded Rhodes might have been one of his victims as he tried to get to the core of the mess.
"It was Canseco," said a bitter Rhodes. "If you can't push me in front of my face, don't push me. It wasn't no accident. I'm not going to take that."
McLemore was eventually subdued by Mariner hitting coach Gerald Perry, while Rhodes menaced on the periphery of the gathering. First-base umpire Bruce Froemming said he ejected Rhodes for "an obscene remark made to me. I told him to knock it off, and that's when he made his remark."
Said Rhodes, "At first, he (Froemming) said something to me. If he doesn't remember what he said, that's his problem."
Froemming confirmed that Yan was not ejected. So the Mariners, with two players tossed, will likely be seen as the instigators when the matter is reviewed by Frank Robinson of the commissioner's office, who has been increasingly strict in handing out penalties.
"I don't care," McLemore said.
"It doesn't bother me," Rhodes said. "I've been playing this game almost 10 years, and it's the first time I've ever gotten kicked out of a game."
Larry Rothschild, the Tampa Bay manager, said McLemore was "probably going after the wrong guy" in Yan. And Froemming made it clear he didn't hold the Ray pitcher accountable.
"He was into his windup," Froemming said. "There was no intention whatsoever to hit him."
Even when the field had cleared, Froemming had to retreat to the Mariner video room to watch the McLemore at-bat for verification that the count on him was 2-1, after Rothschild contended it was 1-1.
"I told 'em it was 2-1," Piniella said, tongue in cheek, "but they didn't believe me."