The planets are back in alignment.
After two grand slams, a benches-clearing brawl, a rain delay, and a series to remember, the St. Louis Cardinals have returned to their usual perch atop the National League Central.
For all that was exciting outside the field of play, the on-field action was rather passé. The Cardinals finished a resounding three-game sweep by upending the Cincinnati Reds, who entered the series with a two game division lead, 6-1, on the strength of a Colby Rasmus grand slam and seven shutout innings by Adam Wainwright, who picked up his league-leading 17th win of the season.
The Reds never really threatened, as Wainwright shackled them to only two hits and no walks. Only once did a Red reach second base.
"We won three games against a team that was in first place, at their park," Wainwright said. "It's good to get three wins against anybody, but against a team like the Reds, a good quality team with possibly a Hall of Fame manager over there, they're playing hard, they're playing good all year. It's good to get the series win."
With Wainwright on the hill, the Cardinals got the very little offense they needed off of Rasmus's slam in the fifth. After toughing out a long at-bat against veteran Bronson Arroyo, Rasmus deposited a full-count changeup to straightaway center, giving the Redbirds the lead for good.
"Everybody knew he had to come over the plate at that time, because you don't want to walk in a run," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "Bronson, other than that one inning, threw the ball pretty well."
The emphatic win was St. Louis's third of the series, and pushed the Cardinals to 4-1 on the road trip.
That's not to say the series was without drama.
Tempers flared early, starting with Brandon Phillips running his mouth before Monday's game.
“I’d play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is [expletive] and moan about everything, all of them, they’re little [expletive], all of ‘em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”
The Cardinals gave Phillips no reason to change his sentiments, holding him 2-14 for the series.
Phillips is a .255 career hitter versus the Cardinals.
“It certainly added fuel to our fire when you’ve got guys opening their mouth, saying stupid stuff,” said Adam Wainwright (17-6), who pitched seven shutout innings and gave up two hits, both singles. “But we only used that in a positive way. It’s very unprofessional to fire back.”
Phillips also neglected that current Reds Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, and Russ Springer, along with GM Walt Jocketty, are all former Cardinals.
"It doesn't do anybody any good," said Jocketty on Tuesday afternoon. "I just wish he wouldn't have said it. I haven't seen him but I will [talk to him]."
In the first inning of Tuesday's contest, Phillips continued his usual habit of tapping the catcher and umpire on the shin guards. St. Louis backstop Yadier Molina would have no part of it.
"I was ready to start the game, and he touched me," Molina said. "The comments that he made yesterday, that he's got no friends over here, why are you touching me then? You are not my friend. So don't touch me. "
While Molina and Phillips began jawing at each other, both managers came out. In the end, both benches erupted into a fracas that caused managerial ejections and a concussion sustained by Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue, after he was kicked in the head by starting pitcher Johnny Cueto. LaRue will need stitches.
The Cardinals won that day, 8-4, tying Cincinnati for the division lead and setting up Wednesday's battle.
Whiners? Make that division leaders.
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