Though the Cincinnati Reds were not picked by many to be in first place in the National League Central Division in 2010, that is precisely where they sat as August opened. The early leaders, the St. Louis Cardinals, had slipped to two games off the pace heading into a crucial three-game series in the Queen City that began on August 9.
Adding fire to the matchup, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips uttered remarks critical of the Cardinals prior to game one that were not widely publicized until afterward.
“I’d play against these guys on one leg,” Phillips told the Dayton Daily News. “We have to beat these guys. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them. They’re little bitches, all of them. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”
In game one, Chris Carpenter blanked Cincinnati for six innings before tiring in the seventh. He did not allow a runner in scoring position until the sixth and made a seven-run fourth inning stand up for his 13th victory as St. Louis won 7-3.
Second baseman Skip Schumaker, who launched a fourth-inning grand slam in game one, may have spoken for many of the Cardinals with his reply.
“Let them keep talking and we’ll see how it plays out.”
It didn’t take long for a reaction on the field as game two began with a wild melee.
Phillips and Yadier Molina touched off the skirmish. As the Reds second baseman approached the plate to lead off the bottom of the first inning, he tapped the Cardinals catcher on the shin guards with his bat. While Phillips typically does the gesture as matter of habit, given the charged environment, Molina took exception.
“You think I’m in a good mood about the comments you made last night?” Molina said he told Phillips after kicking away Phillips’ attempt to be friendly. “Then don’t say, ‘Hi,’ to me. You are not my friend, so don’t touch me. You don’t have to touch me. That’s stupid.”
The benches and bullpens emptied, and the two managers and long-time adversaries, Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker, were among those mixing it up before being ejected and later suspended for two games each.
Here is the video from the Cincinnati television broadcast.
Carpenter, in the midst of exchanging words with his ex-teammate Scott Rolen, was among a group pushed up against the screen as the pile kept moving. The Cardinals pitcher suffered scratches on his back when he was kicked by Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. Cueto is shown at the back in the initial camera views, but sprinted around the group to the screen before engaging. The most damage was inflicted on Cardinals reserve Jason LaRue. The former Reds catcher stepped in trying to protect Carpenter from Cueto’s flailing cleats.
“I turned around and I’ve got Cueto kicking me in the back with his spikes,” Carpenter said. “He ends up kicking my backup catcher in the face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I don’t know where that guy learned to fight.”
LaRue’s injuries included bruised ribs and a concussion, the severity of which was not immediately understood. Molina answered that day with a second-inning solo home run that helped the Cardinals take an 8-4 game two win.
Behind Colby Rasmus’ grand slam on his 24th birthday and the pitching of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals took the much quieter game three by a 6-1 score. In sweeping Cincinnati, St. Louis reached the 15 games over .500 mark and recaptured the division lead.
Any positives for St. Louis were short-lived.
LaRue was placed on the 15-day disabled list on August 10. On the 12th, MLB announced a seven-day suspension for Cueto, the maximum sentence reportedly allowable under the current rules. The pitcher did not appeal. He effectively missed just one start, returning to action on August 21, adding insult to the injury and increasing outrage among many Cardinals fans. Cueto did not appear in the final series between the two clubs, held in St. Louis over Labor Day weekend.
LaRue was much less fortunate than Cueto. As more about the severity of his injuries became known, LaRue was moved to the 60-day DL on the 19th, officially ending his season. He ultimately announced his retirement on September 18 amid concerns over brain damage including memory loss. The 36-year-old’s career was done after 922 games and 12 MLB seasons, the first eight years served as a member of the Reds.
At the conclusion of the August series, Rasmus had noted:
“There was a lot of riff-raff going on. It might have woke a sleeping giant.”
If so, that giant was Cincinnati. The Cardinals soon gave the division lead back as the Reds ended up taking the Central by five games. The Cardinals did not again demonstrate the kind of emotion seen during the August 9-11 series the rest of the way.