Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just Play The Game - Famous Last Words Edition

Let's begin by turning back the pages of time to Sunday, August 8th and how life was in the National League Central Division:
Central                     W  L   Pct GB
Cincinnati Reds        64 48 .571 -
St. Louis Cardinals   61 49 .555 2
So, the St. Louis Cardinals arrived for a heavyweight bout in Cincinnati on Monday trailing the hometown Reds in the standings by 2 games. You would think the last thing anyone on the Reds roster, front office, or even the hot dog vendors would want to do is light a fire under the 2nd place Cardinals before this series began. Ah, but here is what came flying out of the mouth like a flock of doves of the always colorful and outspoken Reds All-Star 2nd baseman, Brandon Phillips:

"I'd play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they're little bitches, 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."

Now, certainly there is no man on Earth who wants to be called a little bitch....and Phillips said this on Sunday afternoon, so the Cardinals had over 24 hours to stew on it. As a baseball player, the biggest issue I have is why Phillips would be so foolish. The Reds were in first place--in August--and haven't qualified for the post-season since 1995. You could argue that the Reds are a young team, and that is true. But, Brandon Phillips is 29 and should understand
 that, “In youth we learn; in age we understand” by now. However, age is all relative when it comes to a pennant race. You can count Phillips a child playing among the Cardinals' men in his first pennant race ever against what seems like an annual party for Tony LaRussa's team from St. Louis. Oh yeah, any baseball fan alive knows that this is what happened when Phillips made his way to the plate as the Reds leadoff hitter in the bottom of the 1st inning on Monday night:

Part of me likes what Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina did. As the team's lone representative at home plate, he made it clear to Phillips that they are most definitely not little bitches and that kind of quote definitely warranted at least a message from anyone on the Cardinals. As baseball "brawls" go, this mosh pit could have played well to any Nirvana song and it is my opinion that it would have been much different and/or physical if it wasn't the first inning of the first game in a key series. You can bet next Spring Phillips may wear a fastball in the middle of his back from any one of the Cardinals pitchers who will gladly get in line for such a chance. Fast-Forward to Thursday morning, the dust has settled from this 3-game series and the standings read like this:
Central                    W  L   Pct GB
St. Louis Cardinals  64 49 .566 --
Cincinnati Reds       64 51 .557 1.0
One spark. One spark and in baseball, a season can turn on it. The Cardinals went about their business and outplayed, outclassed, and outmuscled the youthful Reds in just about every facet of the game. And if you think for one second that they weren't motivated even more by Phillips' awful timing to open his big trap, think again:
“It certainly added fuel to our fire when you’ve got guys opening their mouth, saying stupid stuff,” said Cardinals pitcher 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.”
That is, of course, if your profession isn't in any branch of the armed forces or the mafia. It simply was Wainright's way of saying:

You may wonder how Brandon Phillips answered the know, the same alarm that he set off himself? He batted a measly 2-for-14 as the Cardinals pitching staff made him their, uh, get the picture. Anyway, he did respectfully eat crow by tipping his cap to the Cardinals pitchers and the rest of those bitches.  

Hey, brawls in baseball can be good for the game in the sense that it drums up more buzz, especially when the two combatants are in the thick of a pennant race in not-so-heavy media outlets like Cincinnati & St. Louis. However, they are better for the game and for the teams involved when they develop spontaneously and not in the fashion in which Phillips inspired. Don't get me wrong, brawls in baseball can be dumb, unnecessary, and even cause injury. But when it involves two teams like this in an incredibly severe atmosphere with the stakes at their highest level, it is good for the game, the teams, the players involved, and the fans. You gotta know that more fans will keep their eye on the National League Central now and more people will watch and listen to what Brandon Phillips says and does the rest of this season. If Major League Baseball would ever approve, he may as well remove the #4 from the back of his jersey and replace it with a big, red bulls-eye. If youth truly does learn, then he might not utter another word to the media until October. Because if the Reds miss the playoffs this season and the Cardinals end up playing some meaningful games this Fall, most people will point to that fateful day in August when Brandon Phillips spoke instead of choosing to just play the game.

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