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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals hit by pitch overreaction… or is it?


As the entire Cardinal Nation knows as old news by now, Pittsburgh Pirates closer Matt Capps was ejected for hitting Albert Pujols with a pitch in the back during Sunday’s series finale at PNC Park.

Capps relieved starter Zach Duke with one on and one out in the eighth inning. His first batter faced, pinch hitter Skip Schumaker, hit a two-run home run to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. Pujols was up next.

On the 0-1 pitch, Capps drilled Pujols with a fastball to the back. Pujols glared at Capps, but took first base as Capps was immediately ejected by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook. Pujols was the third Cardinals batter hit in the series, while the Pirates had one.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was unhappy. “I think (Estabrook) read it exactly right. I think it was an intentional hit. And there’s no doubt in my mind it came from the bench. I really believe it didn’t come from the manager. Don’t ask me to expound on that. That’s my comment. It was intentional. It came from the bench; it wasn’t the manager who ordered it. The umpire handled it properly.”

La Russa implied the hit was ordered by Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Once he calmed down, Pujols was more politically inclined with his remarks.

Pujols said, “I don’t think he did it on purpose, but it looked bad after that home run.”

In a most predictable reaction, Capps denied intent.

“Albert Pujols, he’s the classiest guy in baseball, he’s not a guy you’re going to intentionally hit, especially in that situation.” Capps said. “We were playing a good game. I understand I just gave up the homer, but I had him 0-1. I tried to go in and got too strong and it got away from me. I wasn’t happy he threw me out.”

Like others, I am awaiting a ruling from MLB disciplinarian Bob Watson, especially after Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson was slapped with a three-game suspension for a pitch that did not even hit the Mets’ David Wright last week. There are differences in that Thompson’s pitch was near the New York star’s head, yet Brad was also not ejected as was Capps.

I would have let this story drift into history without comment had I not come across a 2007 article when reading about Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder’s well-publicized rage when hit by the Dodgers’ Guillermo Mota last week.

See if this scenario sounds familiar. If you have trouble making the connection, re-read the early part of this post.

In May, 2007, the Brewers and Pirates were squaring off when Milwaukee’s J.J. Hardy blasted a three-run home run off Capps. The Pirates’ closer, lauded for his excellent control in the game story, went 0-1 on the next batter, Fielder. Capps’ next offering came in at the slugger’s head, but fortunately was deflected by Fielder’s shoulder. Not surprisingly, Prince took exception to his shabby treatment, though he did not attempt to enter the opponent’s clubhouse as he did in Los Angeles.

Capps denied he hit Fielder, but Watson slapped him with a four-game suspension that even the Pittsburgh papers agreed with.

Further, just last month, these same Pirates and Brewers were involved in a bench-clearing incident as the result of another beaning. It was allegedly retaliation for an earlier plunking of Brewers’ star Ryan Braun, though Capps personally was not on the mound this time.

Clearly there is a pattern in Capps’ behavior (and that of his club) that needs to be reflected in a suspension. It is not obvious that one is coming, however.

I can’t help but wonder if Watson’s action would have been immediate had one of the New York teams had been involved.

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