Last night, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals got in two fights, both of which were instigated by the team that was losing 7-2 in the fourth game of a series in which they would ultimately be outscored 31-9 at the hands of the best team in baseball.
Framed that way, how do the Cubs look? I promise you, that’s how every non-Cubs fan is framing the fights today. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you don’t find that odious.
I find it unfortunate.
The first fight began when Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk started jawing at the Nationals, generally, and third base coach Bo Porter (the closest National), specifically. Apparently he was grousing about Jayson Werth swinging at a 3-0 pitch … with the bases loaded, in a five-run game, in the 5th inning. Because that’s clearly something that should be complained about. The Cubs were also unhappy that the Nats were stealing bases with a five-run lead, because that’s also something that’s just so totally beyond the pale that it can’t be tolerated on the civilized field of baseball.
(If you had any doubt about the relative rightness/wrongeness of Quirk and Porter, note that Quirk was ejected while Porter was not (despite him leaving the third base coaching box), and crew chief Jerry Lane didn’t paint a pretty picture of Quirk’s actions after the game: “Quirk was ejected for screaming out obscenities at the third-base coach. That was the ejection for the coach. The fracas was started because all that stuff happened and that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter. And the obscenities that he screamed out I just felt was inappropriate and that’s what caused everything.” Quirk made a mistake, and almost everything else stemmed from it.)
After that fight, Lendy Castillo uncorked a fastball at Bryce Harper’s midsection, and a more feisty rumble broke out, featuring the kind of big talk and simultaneous backpedaling that would have made me proud as a (diminutive and drunk) college tough guy.
Dale Sveum and Steve Clevenger both said the pitch to Harper was unintentional,* but you can dismiss that pretty easily given that it was the very first pitch the Nats saw after the previous inning ended (recall, the bases were loaded and it was a three-ball count when the first incident occurred, so Castillo wasn’t going to throw at anyone then). Further, when Castillo’s pitch sailed inside to Harper, Clevenger didn’t so much as flinch – he didn’t move an inch to his right in an effort to make the catch. If he didn’t know that “wild” pitch was coming, his instinct, of course, would have been to reach for it. He didn’t budge. He knew it was coming.
And it was another mistake.
I keep hearing things like, “at least the Cubs showed some fight.” Really? Is that the kind of fight you want the Cubs to show? We can’t beat you on the field, so we’ll whine about you and throw pitches at you?
Sometimes my daughter wants a cookie when I think she should have vegetables. She screams. She kicks. She fights. That’s what I saw on the field last night. Not all “fight” is good or productive. Some of it is just petulant and embarrassing.
Now that I’ve got my rare soapbox moment out of the way …
Do I agree with the “unwritten rules” regarding not showing up your opponent? I do. Not stealing with a huge lead, not swinging at 3-0 with a huge lead. I actually do agree with these things, and I’m glad that the Cubs tend to stay on the right side of them.
But, even acknowledging that, I have two big beefs with what went down last night:
(1) A five run lead is not a sufficiently “huge” lead to invoke these rules. A five run lead is nothing. Let’s start talking when it’s about seven or eight, and maybe when it’s later than the 5th inning.
(2) Setting No. 1 aside, even if I agree that it’s not cool to steal or swing in those situations, that doesn’t mean the response is automatically to throw at the other team and start righteous scuffles from atop your high horse. Absent extenuating circumstances, you know what the response to what the Nats did is? Remember it. File it away in your memory banks for a day when your team isn’t so terrible. Then, when the opportunity for recompense presents itself, you give it back to them in the most satisfying way: you beat their brains in on the field, stealing and swinging at every turn. You beat ’em 10-0 while trying to make it 11-0.
I can only assume that the order for the pitch came from the dugout (the shouting that created the issue in the first place certainly did), as I highly doubt Castillo would have done that on his own, or even under direction from Clevenger, only. It was a mistake, and the Cubs look bad for it. Hopefully they move on, and don’t revisit this approach to shutting the other team up. There are better ways.
*Something I’m wondering about the assertiveness with which Sveum said Castillo wasn’t throwing at Harper: as a Rule 5 selection, we know that Castillo has to spend at least 90 days on the active, 25-man roster this year in order for the Cubs to keep him (without having to continue this roster dance into next season). The Cubs were cutting it very close to that 90 day requirement when they had Castillo on the DL for a couple months mid-season. If Castillo were suspended for, say, five games, how does that impact the 90 days? Does a suspension mean he’s not on the 25-man roster for purposes of the Rule 5 calculation? If so, would he not reach 90 days this season, and the Cubs would have to keep him on the 25-man roster to open the 2013 season before they could finally then keep him for good? If that happens, the Cubs could be put in a tricky roster situation next April. Let’s hope there’s absolutely no connection here, or that Castillo isn’t suspended, or that suspended games don’t impact the 90-day Rule 5 calculation.
Happiness bonus – when the first altercation broke out, who was the Cubs’ number one protector, hopping out of the dugout to stand shoulder to
shoulder elbow with Dale Sveum? Boom:
Watch your back, Adam LaRoche. Tony Campana is eyeballin’ you.