Don’t look for Brad Penny to take aim on an old nemesis, the New York Mets, when he faces them Tuesday.
Those days of discord are long over.
“That’s so long ago, I barely remember it,” Penny said of his role in an infamous feud that erupted between the two teams in 2001. “You’re talking about fights 13 years ago.”
When he takes the mound on Tuesday at Marlins Park, Penny will be focused on trying to revive his career, not reignite old tensions between the two division rivals.
That wasn’t the case during the spring and summer of ’01, when relations between the teams deteriorated into a classic feud that some believe played a role in the firing of Marlins manager John Boles and simmered for years afterward.
It all stemmed from separate incidents in spring training. The first was when Penny struck Mets catcher Mike Piazza with a pitch. The second came after Mets rookie Tsuyoshi Shinjo hit a home run and reached down to touch the plate ceremoniously after rounding the bases.
That action drew a sharp rebuke from then-Marlins catcher Mike Redmond, who is now the team’s manager.
“I wouldn’t do too much of that here,” Redmond was quoted as saying back then. “Pitchers won’t take too kindly to that.”
Fast forward to May 24 at Shea Stadium. The Mets were leading by eight runs in the eighth when Shinjo broke an unwritten rule by swinging at a 3-0 pitch. That angered the Marlins and the following day, Penny hit Shinjo with a pitch.
While Penny now denies hitting Shinjo on purpose, he was quoted at the time as saying: “He deserved to get hit. For what he did last night. He deserved to get hit; 11-3, you don’t do that.”
Mets manager Bobby Valentine came out of the dugout, walked to the first-base line, and stared down Penny. Todd Zeile followed with a home run off Penny, after which he showered the pitcher in expletives.
Benches for both teams cleared, but no punches were thrown.
But Penny said what angered him most were comments by Valentine that appeared in the next day’s newspaper.
“I think Bobby Valentine had a lot to do with it, with the stuff he was saying in the paper,” Penny said. “And as a manager, you can say whatever you want. You don’t have to bat. I really would prefer him to have to step in at the plate.”
Penny said he was so upset and, for the first time ever, revealed he confronted Valentine the next day in the Mets manager’s office. Penny was waiting for him when Valentine entered.
“I talked to Bobby about it,” Penny said. “He said he didn’t mean any of it. He said he was just trying to fire his team up.”
While Valentine was making a scene on the field during the disturbance, Boles took no active role in the flare-up, and there are many who feel that might have been a factor in his being fired three days later in Pittsburgh.
The spat didn’t end there.
“I vowed that [Zeile] would never hit another home run off me again,” Penny said. “And I don’t think he hit very well against me after that.”
When the pitcher and hitter came face to face in subsequent showdowns, Penny often threw behind Zeile’s back as a warning. Though Redmond declined to be interviewed for this article, he has said previously that Zeile turned to him after one of Penny’s warning shots and said, “Is this ever going to end?”
Eventually, it did.
Other than Penny, who is back in a second go-around with the Marlins, the combatants have all been dispersed and the memory has largely faded. There is no great animosity between the two rivals, who are fighting for third place and not a whole lot else as the season winds down.
The Mets, more than any other team, have given Penny the most trouble over his career. He is 5-13 against them.
“We got to change that [Tuesday],” he said.
And let history rest eternal.