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Francisco Cervelli takes his unlikely place in rivalry

08.31.11 at 1:50 am ET

Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli is an excitable guy. Everyone knows this. His teammates know it. His opponents recognize it. When a big moment occurs he likes to celebrate. Cervelli himself certainly doesn’t dispute it.

“That’€™s Cervelli,” Cervelli said. “Like I say, I never try to do anything to any hitter, that’€™s just me. I feel happy when we get a strikeout, and it’€™s a big game, it’€™s bases loaded. If they got a base hit, they’€™d tie the game. So for me, it’€™s good, and I try to transfer the energy to my teammates.”

So, when Cervelli rocked a 3-1 fastball from John Lackey over the Monster and on to Lansdowne St. in Tuesday night’s 5-2 Yankee win over the Sox, he was understandably happy. So happy that he clapped when he crossed home plate.

“He was pumped for that ninth home run of his career, yeah,” Lackey said. Informed it was actually his third, Lackey responded, “Somebody told me that. I don’t even know.”

Ninth or third, it really didn’t matter, but the clap wasn’t appreciated. “I thought it was a little excessive honestly,” Lackey said. “But that’s not a spot to handle something like that.”

That turned out to be his next at-bat when Lackey planted a fastball in his back.

“I was definitely not trying to hit him,” Lackey said. “I was trying to knock him down for sure. You can go look to see where he stands in the box. You got to get him off the plate a little bit. I threw a 3-1 pitch that he hit out. I definitely wasn’t trying to hit him but I was definitely trying to move him back. You don’t want to put a baserunner on in a two-run ballgame.”

He added later, “Nobody likes to get hit. I’ve been fined twice this year for hitting batters and I paid them because they were right. This one, I’m not afraid to tell you if I was trying to hit someone. I would have told him to his face.”

Cervelli didn’t see it that way and had words with Jarrod Saltalamacchia before taking first. Both benches emptied. Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild was ejected and everyone had something to say in multiple languages.

“You know man, I don’€™t remember,” Cervelli said. “A lot of Spanish. At that moment, I forgot my English. But it’€™s part of the game. I’€™ve got a lot of energy, and I don’€™t know what I say.”

From Saltalamacchia’s perspective: “He was obviously upset. I can see how it looks bad. A guy hits a home run and he gets hit but at that point in the game we’ve got to pitch how we’ve got to pitch and we need to pitch in to that guy because he’s on top of the plate. Obviously he was upset and I was telling him, ‘Hey we’re not trying to hit you there.'”

So Cervelli takes his place in the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry. He’s a footnote to the main actors — a backup catcher with less than 550 at-bats in his short career in the big leagues — but a note nonetheless.

This latest adventure actually began long before Cervelli’s moment. It started when Lackey appeared to hit Curtis Granderson in the first. Home plate umpire Ed Rapuano thought otherwise and called it a foul ball. Either way, Lackey had come inside on Granderson and so CC Sabathia hit Jacoby Ellsbury to lead off the bottom of the first. That’s where things stood until Cervelli’s home run.

“That’s a 3-1 pitch to a nine-hole hitter,” Lackey said. “I didn’t want to walk him. It was probably the only time I gave in all night and it didn’t work out.”

Yankee manager Joe Girardi said that Cervelli has actually calmed down over the years and Cervelli agreed with that assessment. But one man’s celebration is another’s sign of disrespect.

“He’s done a lot of that stuff with the fist-pump after they strike guys out,” Saltalmacchia said. “He likes to get excited. That’s fine. As far as the clapping goes, yeah, it could have bee a little much. You just don’t show anybody up. You play the game the way you play it and you’ve got to stay in your boundaries and not show anybody up. We sure as heck don’t do it so we don’t expect them to do it. That’s kind of the way he’s always been.”

It’s been seven years since the Red Sox and Yankees met in the postseason and as they jockey for position in the American League East they seem headed for yet another October collision. They have the best records, the best offenses and pitching staff’s that rank in the upper half of all the meaningful categories.

A few of the icons of those old battles are still around. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera were greeted with the customary boos and catcalls from the Fenway crowd. Alex Rodriguez would have probably heard the worst of it, but he took a cortisone shot to aid his sprained thumb and is likely to miss the series.

A playoff series would open the door for a new chapter, for new heroes and villains to emerge. Even one as unlikely as a backup catcher with three career home runs. “The game is the game, and outside, it’€™s another Cervelli,” he said. “I’€™m like the Pacific. I try to relax.”

Read More: Francisco Cervelli, jarrod saltalamacchia, john lackey,
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