Prior to the integration of a third division in each league, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies rivalry was widely considered one of the best in baseball. When Pittsburgh moved to the National League Central Division in 1994, that rivalry began to diminish, as the two teams did not play each other as often.
Now, it is looking like that rivalry may be heating up again.
In an exhibition game Sunday afternoon between these two teams, five batters were hit by pitches. The bean-ball war began in the third inning, when Pirates' second baseman Neil Walker was plunked. In the bottom half of the inning, Phillies slugger John Mayberry Jr. was hit by pitch.
In the fifth inning, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought in from the bullpen, and that was when things got heated. After a two-out single off the bat of Walker, Papelbon's first pitch was a high and tight fastball to reigning most valuable player Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen shook it off, got back in the box and hit his second single of the game. However, things were far from over, as Pirates reliever Bryan Morris nailed the first batter of the next inning on his first pitch.
According to a report from Ben Walker of the Associated Press, veteran umpire Tom Hallion turned to both benches and said managers Clint Hurdle and Ryne Sandberg, "Are you done now?"
While spring training games do not matter in the standings, athletes are still competitors, and there is nothing better than watching two rivals play each other.
However, there is no reason to be throwing pitches at each other, as there is serious risk to injury there. In three meetings this spring, Pittsburgh pitchers have plunked eight Philadelphia batters.
Often when two teams feud, the best batter is typically the target to be thrown at. That was the case yesterday for both Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, both of whom are integral pieces to the lineup.
This spring, McCutchen is batting .560 in 25 at-bats, as he is showing no signs of slowing down following his MVP season in 2013. That is why the Pirates must be very careful in how they pitch to other teams.
Any sort of prolonged injury could be detrimental to the Pirates' lineup, as McCutchen is the main driving force in front of power-hitting third baseman Pedro Alvarez. While it is great to see his teammates protecting him by retaliating against opposing hitters, it is also adding more fuel to the fire.
Rivalries are good for sports, but there was no excuse for what occurred in this game, especially considering the fact that the game had no meaning in the standings. Players still play with passion regardless of the time of year, but they must handle their emotions differently from how they did Sunday.
It will be interesting to see how commissioner Bud Selig will handle this situation going forward. Either suspensions or fines should be given, as throwing at a batter in spring training is just as dangerous as doing so in the regular season, especially when pitchers are buzzing fastballs by batters' heads.
The Pirates and Phillies will face each other three more times before the regular season begins. On March 22, the Pirates will be the host while Philadelphia will play host in the last two games of spring training.
The rebirth of this Pennsylvania rivalry would be great for baseball, and we will see how things play out throughout the season. However, putting other players in danger should not be tolerated or condoned by anyone in the world of sports.
*Statistics Courtesy of Associated Press