Tempers flare early between Cards, Reds
Benches clear after Molina takes exception to Phillips
CINCINNATI -- With some venomous words, a kick of a bat and then some additional kicks to players' bodies, the National League Central race between the Reds and Cardinals moved into another dimension -- a nasty one.Instead of it just being two teams that respect each other frequently exchanging leads in the standings, a second bitter layer was added Tuesday because of a bench-clearing scuffle during the Reds' 8-4 loss to the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. At the center of it all was Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who trashed the Cardinals during a pregame interview Monday. In the bottom of the first inning, Phillips was leading off and walked to the plate. Per his customary practice, Phillips tried to offer friendly taps with his bat to the shin guards of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and home-plate umpire Mark Wegner. Molina, who wanted no part of such pleasantry, kicked Phillips' bat away. Molina then stepped on home plate in front of Phillips and got in his face while yelling. Phillips talked back, and once Molina took off his mask, the benches and bullpens cleared. "I was ready to start the game, and he touched me," Molina said. "The comments that he made yesterday, that he's got no friends over here, why are you touching me then? You are not my friend. So don't touch me. " While Phillips and Molina were being separated, other players started jawing with each other. Reds manager Dusty Baker and Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa also had words for one another. Baker screamed at Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter and they had to be separated, which sent the scrum all the way to the backstop.
"One thing led to another. Guys were chirping," Baker said. "Some guy said, 'Be quiet.' One of their coaches, [Jose] Oquendo, I told him to be quiet. Tony told me not to talk to his coaches. I told him a few things and he told me a few things. I heard some stuff out of the back and the next thing you know, it was on again."This is where the fracas got particularly nasty. Reds third baseman and former Cardinal Scott Rolen, originally one of the peacemakers, appeared to get into it with Carpenter, too. Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto found himself pinned against the backstop and started kicking at players. Cueto connected his spikes in the face of Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue, who clearly had a gash above his left eye and whom La Russa said later had a slight concussion. "I was trying to go in and trying to break people off," Cueto said with catcher Ramon Hernandez interpreting. "As soon as I knew it, I had like 20 people pushing me all over to the net. I already had my back to the net with my feet up. When you see more than 15 people going over you, you definitely are going to get scared. I did get nervous." Order was restored after a seven-minute delay. When it was all said and done, the only ejections levied were to both managers. "I actually think it made a lot of sense," La Russa said. "I think the umpires had to do something, and it didn't affect the competition. You [eject] the two guys that are probably most immaterial to the outcome of the game. I think it was a smart move." And what words were the catalyst in the first place? Before the Reds' 7-3 loss to the Cards on Monday, Phillips told Dayton Daily News reporter Hal McCoy about how much he didn't like St. Louis, Cincinnati's main rival in the National League Central race. "I'd play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys," Phillips told the DDN. "I hate the Cardinals. All they do is [complain] and moan about everything, all of them. ... I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals." The Reds weren't shocked that Phillips' comments caused things to escalate to another level. "I don't think it was a big mystery there was some tension going into the game," Rolen said. "It got ugly right there at the beginning. I was tired before my first at-bat. I'm not going to talk about, 'I was doing this and that guy was doing that' or anything like that. It was two teams defending their own people and standing up for their own players and managers and coaches. That got ugly. Obviously, it was heated when it started." Phillips hasn't exactly backed up his trash talk, considering that he has gone 1-for-10 in the series with only one ball hit out of the infield. On the other hand, Molina slugged a solo home run off of Cueto during his first at-bat Tuesday and finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs. After the game, Phillips would not directly address the skirmish that he played an integral part in. "To tell you the truth, man, we lost today," Phillips said. "Regardless of what happened, we lost. That's the only thing that really [stunk] today. I just really wanted to win the game. It is what it is. I'm just mad we lost the game." Reds management was already unhappy with Phillips before the game because of his unprovoked attack on St. Louis. "It doesn't do anybody any good," said current Reds and former Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty on Tuesday afternoon. "I just wish he wouldn't have said it. I haven't seen him but I will [talk to him]." As mad as the Cardinals were at Phillips before the fight, their new public enemy No. 1 after it might be Cueto for kicking at LaRue and Carpenter. "Nobody was doing anything. I wasn't throwing any punches. Nobody was throwing any punches," Carpenter said. "We had some guy kicking me in the back, who ends up kicking my backup catcher and splits his face open. When you see him, you'll see, he could have done some real damage. [Cueto] got him in the side of the eye, got him in his nose, got him in his face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I haven't seen anything like that." Said La Russa: "We're facing an issue with Jason. He got clobbered in the head with their starting pitcher kicking. So he has a slight concussion and he has some facial tears there, and his and Carp's bodies. We'll see how that's all handled." Of course, Baker saw the Cueto situation from the other side. "They had him pinned up pretty good, like a rat in the corner with nowhere to go," Baker said. "It wasn't very pretty for him, or anybody else." The Reds are trying to get into the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, and to do that, they are trying to knock off a perennial contender in St. Louis. Add to that some recent exchanges between the two teams and it might be the source of Phillips' feelings. Last season, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan accused Reds starter Bronson Arroyo of doctoring baseballs. Former Cardinals hurler John Smoltz along with Carpenter also accused the Reds of preparing baseballs differently and giving St. Louis ones with poorer grip. With the Cincinnati loss, St. Louis moved percentage points ahead for the division lead. After Wednesday afternoon's series finale, the two teams don't reconnect until Labor Day weekend at Busch Stadium. "It happened, it all happened," Rolen said of Tuesday evening. "We'll play tomorrow, try to move on and put some stuff behind us."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. Reporter Matthew Leach also contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.