March Madness: Cards Holding Nothing Back This Spring


Spring training is supposed to be about smoothly transitioning from the offseason to the regular season. Spring training is supposed to be about slowly getting back into the swing of things. Spring training is supposed to be about friendly competition in which a variety of players get a chance to prove their overall value to a ballclub. While you always play to win the game, at the end of the day, the final outcome of a spring matchup is not all that important. In other words, if there’s ever a time of year when winning isn’t necessarily at the top of the priority list for MLB managers, it’s right now. Don’t tell this to the Cardinals and Nationals.

With less than one week to go until opening day, the Cards and Nats are having a hard time restraining their baseball emotions. Can we really blame them? I’m just a fan and I’ve practically gone insane since last October. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the players who are used to being out on the field on a daily basis for more than half the year. Baseball is my drug of choice, and as far as I’m concerned, opening day should be a national holiday.

If you haven’t figured out what exactly I’m talking about by now, you probably didn’t catch the highlights of the Cardinals spring game against the Nationals on Monday. If you didn’t watch the highlights or the game itself, you missed more than just your typical Grapefruit League game.

With one out in the seventh inning at Roger Dean Stadium, Miguel Bautista, facing just his second batter of the afternoon, hit Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond with a pitch. As Desmond took a look back at the home plate umpire who gave Bautista a warning, both benches quickly cleared, tempers flared, and the rest is history. No punches were thrown, but the two sides exchanged words for a good ten minutes. I don’t think the players were talking about where they went on vacation during the offseason, but that’s just my guess.

Although it was Bautista’s one pitch that ultimately cleared the benches, it was a sequence of events leading up to that point that, in my opinion, indirectly led to the dispute. It all began in the fifth inning with none other than Nyger Morgan. Surprise, surprise. What is it with this guy? After bunting a ball that was fielded by Chris Carpenter, Morgan not-so-subtly bumped into Albert Pujols as he ran through first base and was called out. It was enough of a collision for the St. Louis trainer to take a look at Albert, who did stay in the game. Just two batters later, Chris Carpenter hit Lanyce Nix. Coincidence? Quite possibly. In the bottom half of the inning, Livan Hernandez drilled Colby Rasmus. Coincidence? I think not.

As I made reference to earlier, the Nationals and specifically Nyger Morgan have some history with St. Louis. In August of last season, Morgan plowed through catcher Bryan Anderson who had his back turned at the time. There was absolutely no play at the plate whatsoever, but Morgan had no intention of slowing up. He went out of his way to initiate some serious contact. The bottom line here is that Morgan is a punk. It’s plain and simple. For two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of winning, Washington and St. Louis are developing somewhat of a rivalry.

Going back to Monday’s scuffle, managers Tony La Russa and Jim Riggleman engaged in a heated argument near home plate along with the players. The two are close friends and worked together in the past in the Cardinal’s organization, but as any smart baseball fan knows, friendship goes out the window in the midst of head-to-head competition. Miguel Bautista would end up being ejected from the game before play resumed, and the Nationals went on to win 7-2. Again, the final score does not even begin to tell the full story of the game.

Here’s some player and manager reaction in the aftermath of the incident.

"The home-plate umpire gave me a warning, and then the benches cleared. The managers started screaming at each other and then seven minutes later, here comes Angel Hernandez throwing me out of the game. I said, ‘Why? It’s been seven minutes.’ He said, ‘Well we believe that Tony sent somebody to tell you to hit him,’ and I said, ‘How do you know that?’ It’s one of those ugly situations, but when things like that happen, everybody are walking on egg shells and umpires have to do their jobs and when anything happens it looks suspicious.~Miguel Bautista"

"There is no question that [I was hit on purpose]. As for why, you have to go over there and ask [Carpenter] for that. I’m just playing the game. I’m not sure what the reason is behind it. I’m not extra sensitive to it or emotional. That’s how they choose to do it, that’s their thing.~Laynce Nix"

"I didn’t hit him on purpose. It was just tough for me. It was one after another. We’ve got guys getting thrown out. We’ve got guys giving up runs. We’ve got people talking about what’s going on out there and all this commotion between all the coaches and all this other stuff. Skip came in and was talking about … [Nationals first-base coach] Dan Radison saying that I’m the one that starts all this stuff. ‘Where’s Carp at? Why isn’t Carp out here?’ That’s the most idiotic thing, in Spring Training — it’s stupid. I said I didn’t hit Laynce Nix on purpose and he said that everybody in the dugout thought I did, and I said, ‘Well, you don’t know me well enough or something.’ … But he wanted me to come back out, so I went back out and spent the rest of the day out there.~Chris Carpenter"

"I hit the guy, because [Carpenter] hit somebody. I was surprised, because Batista was not supposed to hit another guy. That was the problem. In old-school baseball, La Russa knows that when you hit somebody, you are supposed to take the next one. That’s it. He hits another guy again. It’s not fair. That’s not real baseball.~Livan Hernandez"

So what can Cardinals fans take away from all of this? Well, first of all, you have to love the toughness of this ballclub. They aren’t going to sit back and take crap from any other team, and you certainly have to respect them for that. Some would argue that the Cards can’t afford to let their emotions get the best of them, but I have no problem with players getting into a game emotionally if it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness. The fact of the matter is the Redbirds are fighting an uphill battle as it is right now, so they will need to exhaust every possible option to make some noise this year. Not to mention, bench clearing brawls can be great for team chemistry.

Last season, a lot was made of pitchers throwing at opposing hitters intentionally. It certainly is unhealthy for the game if guys are holding grudges and targeting other players with a vengeance. However, since it’s impossible to determine for sure whether or not a hit-by-pitch is intentional, this is a tough aspect of the game to do anything about. If MLB considers this to be a serious issue, it better start thinking about potential solutions because I can guarantee that this Cards-Nats game is only a preview of what is to come throughout the regular season.