The bad blood culminated in the sixth inning, when Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo fired a fastball at Harper’s waist. Harper ducked out of the way and took two steps at Castillo. Both rosters met in the middle of the diamond. Three players, including Nationals reliever Michael Gonzalez, would be ejected. Michael Morse and Edwin Jackson grew particularly animated.
The seeds had been sown for days by the combustible combination of a ticked-off team and a manager, Davey Johnson, who gives no quarter.
“If they get mad at my guys in the fifth inning swinging 3-0 or running,” Johnson said, “they better get used to it.”
All series, the Nationals had battered the Cubs as soundly as one major league team can trounce another. Wednesday night, Chicago Manager Dale Sveum called their meeting “men against boys.” By the end of Thursday night, the Nationals would outscore the Cubs 31-9 over four games. The Cubs lost their 86th game. Frustration filled their dugout.
“I think I’d be pretty pissed off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all [week], too, but you can’t lay down,” Harper said. “You’ve got to keep going, keep grinding, keep coming.”
In the fifth inning, the Nationals had already taken a 7-2 lead. For Johnson, it was not enough. He extols his players to not let the opponent dictate when to stop competing.Take nothing for granted. The Nationals, remember, lost a game to the Atlanta Braves this season after leading by nine runs. Many of them mentioned the game afterward.
Both Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa stole second base in fifth. With a 3-0 count, Jayson Werth took a mighty hack at a 3-0 curveball. Some in the Cubs’ dugout considered that piling on. Johnson, in absolute terms, does not. He considers it baseball.
“Here we are in the fifth inning, we’re in a pennant race, we’re going to swing 3-0, we’re going to do everything,” Johnson said. “We ain’t stopping trying to score runs. Certainly, a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach’s frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we’re going to keep competing.”
After Werth’s swing, Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger walked to the visitors’ dugout to change his catcher’s mitt. Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk started yelling at Nationals third base coach Bo Porter about the steals and the swing. Porter, who played safety for four years on the University of Iowa football team, paced toward Quirk, yelling and pointing.