Brandon Phillips sparked a first inning brawl between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday night, adding more fuel to a rivalry that grows tenser as the season draws to a close.
Phillips came up to bat in the bottom of the first inning and, as is his custom, tapped his bat on the catcher's shin guard as he dug in. Yadier Molina, the Cardinals catcher, took offense to the gesture and confronted Phillips. The two players removed their headgear and began barking at each other, prompting both benches and bullpens to empty and charge the field. The full-scale fight lasted seven minutes.
Molina was in a testy mood to begin with over what Phillips had said on Monday, calling the Cardinals "complainers" and adding that he hated them.
"The comment he made yesterday that he's got no friends over here -- then why you touch me?" Molina said. "You are not my friend, so don't touch me. I mean, if we're no good for you, you are not my friend."
According to the Associated Press, the Cardinals twice complained in games against the Reds that the baseballs were slippery, suggesting that they hadn't been properly rubbed up prior to the game.
There was no investigation by MLB into whether or not the complaint was valid. Phillips, however, stands by his comments.
"People (other than the Cardinals and their fans) respect me for what I said," Phillips said Tuesday before the game. "Those were my comments, and a lot of people feel that way all throughout the league — many people feel that way."
Right or wrong, it's the Reds who have complaining to do now after falling to the Cardinals 8-4 and allowing St. Louis to tie Cincinnati atop the NL Central standings.
The Reds managed only six singles and committed three errors in a lackluster effort against their primary competitor in the division. The Cardinals are now 9-5 against the Reds this season.
Phillips probably should have focused more on his hitting in this series (0-6 without a ball hit out of the infield) than his talking. But the outspoken Reds second basemen has brought a life and energy to a franchise that hasn't been relevant in over a decade.
Their last winning season was in 1999, when they lost a one game playoff to the Mets. The last time the Reds made the playoffs was in 1995. Before that it was 1990, also the last time they won the World Series. Before 1990, the Reds went 11 seasons without a playoff appearance dating back to 1979.
There have been several premier players in Cincinnati over the years, among them Barry Larkin, Sean Casey, and Ken Griffey, Jr. However, the Reds constantly found themselves stuck in mediocrity—a travesty for one of baseball's most storied franchises (over 100 years in the league and six World Series titles). The Big Red Machine had become a thing of the past.
The St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, have been the most dominant team in their division throughout the decade and one of the most successful teams in all of baseball. The Cardinals have won the NL Central seven times since 2000, including last year, and were World Series champions in 2006. They have won 10 titles, second only to the New York Yankees (27).
Now these two great franchises finally find themselves on equal ground. The Cardinals have Albert Pujols, the Reds have Joey Votto. The Cardinals have Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Reds have Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. For the first time since the mid-1990's, the Cardinals and Reds will be the two teams battling it out to represent the NL Central in the 2010 playoffs.
This kind of heated rivalry is not only good for the revival of the Reds franchise, it's good for all of baseball.
A report from the Sports Business Daily found that MLB attendance through August 3 is down 1.3% from last year. That number may seem small, but baseball is a sport predicated on expanding revenues, not shrinking them. So what's going on?
There are many possible culprits. The biggest one is still the aftereffects of the recent recession. Many families don't have the money to spend on a baseball game, and with advances in technology watching the game at home on a high-definition TV might be more pleasant anyway.
But there are other lurking issues at work too. Offensive numbers are down across the board as the "Steroid Era" has given way to the "Year of the Pitcher". Many of baseball's most entertaining personalities have shied away from media attention (Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, etc). Where's Barry Bonds when you need him?
Even the rivalries are boring now. Red Sox-Yankees isn't the same with Tampa Bay in the middle. Mets-Phillies is irrelevant until the Mets remember how to win (ditto for Mets-Braves). Dodgers-Giants is embarrassing to discuss when San Diego is atop the division. Even the Cardinals' main rivals (Houston, Chicago) are in blow-it-up mode.
What we have in Cardinals-Reds is the makings of a rivalry that has the potential to captivate not only two great baseball cities in St. Louis and Cincinnati, but to also captivate baseball fans across the country. Nothing gets the blood boiling like a 50-player fight, and with less than two months remaining in the regular season there's sure to be more wreckage in the near future. I, for one, can't wait to see it.
Besides, what else are people in Ohio going to do?