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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Embarrassment really hits Zimmer

Remember the party when you made one too many pilgrimages to the punch bowl, and ended up with that lampshade with the tassles on your head?

At the time, you don't grasp the magnitude of your actions, and how incredibly foolish you look.

Then you wake up the next morning, with your head pounding and your mouth resembling an oversized Q-Tip, and you realize what you've done.

Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer knows how you feel. He woke up yesterday morning, bruised and sore from being tossed to the ground by Pedro Martinez, and realized the embarrassment he had caused by charging the Red Sox ace in a fit of fury over Martinez throwing a pitch at the head of Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia.

So Zimmer, a proud, stubborn baseball man, did an uncommonly admirable thing last night before Game 4 was postponed: He apologized.

An emotional Zimmer stepped up to the podium in the interview room, accompanied by Yankees manager Joe Torre, and issued a few brief, heartfelt comments.

"First of all," said Zimmer, his voice breaking, "last night, we won a hell of a game, and the media gathered around me and I didn't want to be rude. I was hurting, and I had to get to the trainer's room, and I didn't want nothing to take away from the win that we had last night."

Zimmer paused in an attempt to collect himself, then continued, "I'm embarrassed of what happened yesterday. I'm embarrassed for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the fans, the umpires, and my family."

As Zimmer mentioned his family, his voice cracked again, and he began to fight back tears. Torre patted his friend on the back as Zimmer jumped up and said, "That's all I have to say. I'm sorry." He then quickly left the room.

It was an extraordinary development in the wake of Saturday's ugly skirmish, which began when Martinez threw a pitch that Garcia claims hit the back of his helmet. The tension spilled over to the following inning, when New York pitcher Roger Clemens threw a fastball that Sox slugger Manny Ramirez deemed objectionable. The benches cleared again, and as Martinez stood off to the side of his own dugout, Zimmer, who was beaned twice in his career, once so seriously that he lay in a coma for 13 days, made a beeline for the pitcher, with his arm raised. Martinez, stunned at the sight of a 72-year-old man coming to take him down, grabbed Zimmer and spun him away, sending him into the dirt.

Anyone who saw the clip on "SportsCenter" understood where this was going. Zimmer was about to take his place in Red Sox lore as the newest and, perhaps, the most bizarre chapter in the wacky history of this franchise. He was the new punch line to every Red Sox joke.

Zimmer, who appeared shaken up, remained in the dugout for the rest of the game, but was later transported to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for observation. According to Torre, he was released that evening, and went to dinner at a local restaurant.

Asked what it was like to see his friend and colleague break down over an incident he clearly regrets, Torre answered, "I think he has so much respect for the game. I know he spent a long time here, both as a manager and a coach. He loves the people here. His daughter lives close by. He's very comfortable when he comes here. And, as I say, he has a great deal of regard, because he's been with the Yankees, I think, three different times.

"You know, I'm sure he wishes it didn't happen. But again, you get emotions, you get caught up in it, and as we all know, Don Zimmer is a very emotional, shoot-from-the-hip guy. I think we've all reacted to things and wish the next day or the next hour that we never did say it.

"I think he feels badly about all of the attention this has gotten. His overreaction, or reaction -- not overreaction -- there's no in-between with him. He either reacts, or he doesn't react. He's very sensitive."

Torre was asked if there were any plans for Zimmer to meet with Martinez and clear the air regarding their altercation.

"I don't think so," said Torre, to gales of laughter.

Martinez, asked again last night about his altercation with Zimmer, stressed, "I'd never, ever, ever, ever, ever, regardless of what he said or what he does, raised my hand to him." Was Martinez glad Zimmer apologized? "No," Pedro replied. "I wish no man would have to apologize. It's not a good feeling to have to apologize."

Zimmer was fined $5,000 by Major League Baseball yesterday for his role in Saturday's debacle. He was very fortunate not to be suspended. He can't do anything about the reams of videotape chronicling his ill-advised decision. Nor can he do anything to reverse the humiliation it has undoubtedly caused him.

But he has already done something few others involved in the ugly incidents of Game 3 have done: He has taken responsibility for his actions.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer apologized for his role in a benches-clearing incident during Game 3. Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer apologized for his role in a benches-clearing incident during Game 3. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
Video
See the Zimmer-Martinez clash
Watch an exclusive shot of the encounter, caught on videotape by spectator Steve Young, who was seated behind 1st base.
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