In the seventh of the Nationals’ 7-2 victory over the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., both benches emptied following a plunking of Ian Desmond by Miguel Batista. It was an odd sight for spring training. The game was not on television, so you won’t be seeing any highlights. Here, then, is a Q & A to explain what exacty went on.
Is there any back story here?
Yes. Last year, on Aug. 28 at Nationals Park, Nyjer Morgan decided to run into Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson despite the lack of a play at home plate. The next day, Manager Jim Riggleman sat Morgan, thereby avoiding any beanballs. The Nationals did not play the Cardinals again, but they have played a few times this spring without incident.
Also, Riggleman and Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa are longtime friends. Riggleman worked for the Cardinals for several years as their minor league field coordinator, and he considers La Russa something of a mentor.
How did it start?
In the fifth inning, Nyjer Morgan led off by dropping down a bunt. Cardinals catcher Gerald Laird pounced on the ball and fired to first. Laird’s throw sailed wide to the right, the inside of the base path, and Morgan’s speed made it a close play. As Morgan bolted through the base and down the right field line, Pujols shook his glove hand dropped his glove to the infield dirt.
The trainer came out to check on Pujols, and it seemed as though everything was fine. The play by Morgan appeared to be normal, clean. Perhaps his spike caught Pujols’s hand as he ran by, when his foot kicked up, but there would be no possible way he could have done that on purpose.
“I know they felt that Pujols got stepped on, that that was intentionally by Nyjer,” Riggleman said. “That’s totally inaccurate. Nyjer was running to first.”
After the game, Morgan walked past a group of reporters on the way to the team bus and said, “I plead the fifth.” From watching the play, it seemed obvious there was no sinister intent on behalf of Morgan. He had his share of incidents last season, but it would be unfair if anything Morgan did today becomes lumped in with that.
What happened next?
Two batters later, with one out, Chris Carpenter hit Nix with a pitch that grazed his arm. After the game, Carpenter would say he had poor command to the left side of the plate all game.
“I did not hit Laynce Nix on purpose,” Carpenter said.
The Nationals were convinced otherwise.
“There’s no question about that,” Nix said. “As for why, I think you have to ask them.”
How did the Nationals respond?
In the bottom of the fifth, with one out, Livan Hernandez drilled Colby Rasmus with a fastball in the midsection. Later, he freely admitted it was on purpose. Rasmus walked to first base. The Nationals thought the incident had passed.
“I hit the guy because he hit somebody,” Hernandez said. “That’s it. If you hit somebody, I’m going to hit somebody.
“In old school baseball – and La Russa knows – you hit somebody first, and you’re supposed to take the next
one. That’s it. It’s over.”
Were there any clues it wasn’t over?
Yup. The sixth inning passed with no one getting hit by a pitch, but before the seventh, both Miguel Batista and Jason Motte were warming in the Cardinals’ dugout. “We noticed that,” Riggleman said. “If you’re going to get somebody thrown out of a game, the next guy gets all the [warm-up] pitches he need, anyway. So it’s not like you’ve got to have him ready. But, certainly, we noticed that. There was question in my mind that Batista was going to hit somebody.”
Who was batting leadoff in the seventh?
Nyjer Morgan. The Cardinals had their chance to hit the player who first sparked any bad blood between the teams, but they did not. He flied to center.
If the Cardinals still had a problem from last year, “then hit Nyjer,” Riggleman said. “I left Nyjer in the game. They could have hit Nyjer.”
So who got hit, and did he deliver any awesome quotes after the game?
Ian Desmond, and yes. With the first pitch Batista, the former Nationals reliever, threw, he drilled Desmond in the back. Desmond turned to catcher Tony Cruz and to the Cardinals dugout with his arms extended and palms up, as if asking for an explanation. The Nationals all thought the matter had been settled when Hernandez hit Rasmus. When Desmond started jawing, both benches emptied.
“It’s part of the game,” Desmond said. “We were really trying to keep the fans around. Pujols came out of the game. Carpenter came out of the game. We knew they were going to leave, so we had to have some entertainment for them.”
What wad the “brawl” scene like?
Morgan was the first one hopping out of the dugout for the Nationals. Coach Trent Jewett, who knows Morgan from their days together in the Pittsburgh minor league system, put his arm around Morgan and led him far, far from the scrum.
There were apparently no punches thrown and little, if any, shoving. The most demonstrative person was Riggleman, who screamed at Tony La Russa with an index finger protruding just as things seemed to be settling down. His point seemed to be that each team had hit one batter and that things should have been settled at that. Desmond tried to speak with La Russa, again as if he wanted an explanation. Eventually, Ivan Rodriguez walked with La Russa away from the pile.
Did anything else happen?
Nationals first base coach Dan Radison called out Carpenter from across the diamond. Carpenter, who had started changing in the clubhouse, heard about this. He put his uniform back on and came back from the clubhouse to address Radison.
“So I go out there to let him know that I didn’t hit Laynce Nix on purpose,” Carpenter told St. Louis reporters. “That’s the most idiotic thing to hear in spring training. [Radison] said everybody in the dugout thought I did it on purpose. I told them they don’t know me well enough to say that. It’s a spring training game. What’s the point? I don’t know what their problem was.”
Is there any lingering bad blood?
La Russa said, “it’s not going to go any further.” Riggleman said, “I hope not. These are things your team, your players settle. Players, they decide how these things end.”
It doesn’t mean this will lead to anything else, but there was at least one Nationals veteran who still wasn’t happy with the Cardinals, La Russa in particular, after the game.
“It’s very typical of playing these guys,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “I’ll leave it at that. I’ve played against them a lot, and for whatever reason, gone into the same situation.”
LaRoche, standing outside the Nationals’ clubhouse, was asked if he was surprised Desmond had been hit to continue the plunkings.
“Nothing surprises me with” the Cardinals, he said, as the umpiring crew walked by. LaRoche watched them walk by and shook his head. “It’s surprising these guys didn’t do anything about it when they did, that’s what surprises me. I wish they would have heard.”
“You never know what he’s thinking,” LaRoche continued, referring to La Russa. “You never know what he’s telling his pitchers. You never know until it happens it happens. And it’s a shame.”
Are Riggleman and La Russa still friends?
“This doesn’t change any of that,” Riggleman said. “Tony and I are great friends. This doesn’t change any of that. Tony and I have barked at each other a little bit through the years during game. Tony doesn’t consider me a friend during the game, and I don’t consider him a friend during the game. It’s unfortunate that most of it happens through something that someone perceives happened that didn’t really happen.”
What’s the funniest thing anyone said?
Desmond insisted he was not hurt because by the pitch that hit him. “Miggy throws like Miss Iowa, anyway,” he said.