Since returning to Miller Park the Brewers are 7-1 and thanks to the help of a few other teams, have widened their lead in the division to 2.5 games. Sweeping the hated Cubs, and the lowly Astros before facing off with the 2nd place Cardinals the Brewers have finally started to play like a 1st place team. However, today I have decided to talk about two of those opponents instead of the Brew Crew, the Astros and the Cardinals.
Starting at the bottom (of the division) the Houston Astros had been talked about as much as any team as the trade deadline approached. Key players like Michael Bourn, Jeff Keppinger, Wandy Rodriguez, Clint Barmes, and of course Hunter Pence had been linked to many trade rumors. Continuing their trend of trading away their top players to build for the future (Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman in ’10) the idea that Houston would trade players like Pence, Bourn, and Keppinger comes as no surprise to anybody. The surprise comes with how they handled the trade of outfielder Hunter Pence. Last Friday night while the Astros and Brewers started their 3 game series, Houston General Manager Ed Wade was very busy taking phone calls. Hunter Pence was in the starting lineup on Friday night despite rumors that a deal was close to done that would send Pence to Philadelphia. Typically when a trade is almost done a player will be removed from the starting lineup so the acquiring team can rest easy about an injury. The Astros decided to take a different route.
In the bottom of the 5th inning in Friday night’s game Hunter Pence started to take is position in right field. Before he could make it to the outfield grass, he was called back into the dugout and informed that he had been traded to Philadelphia. TV cameras caught the run of emotions from surprise to sadness. As he emotionally hugged his teammates and coaches working his way to the clubhouse to pack his things, the rest of the players on the field and the announcers were left confused and shocked. Trading a player during a game happens quite often, but there is a reason they are left out of the starting lineup. Days earlier, the night before the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants, he took his entire team out to dinner knowing he would likely be traded the next day. Amongst all of the moves Houston made at the trade deadline giving players, especially a face of your franchise, a chance to make his goodbyes is a classy move that the Astros failed to make.
As for the Cardinals, the red birds from the show me state showed me quite a few things in the last two days that I haven’t seen since playing pickup games of baseball at Columbus Park when I was 9. After game 1 of the important series, Cards manager Tony La Russa accused the Brewers of cheating, stating that the banner lights around the field were darker when they were batting than when the Brewers were. After the game Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter also made accusations that Milwaukee was stealing signs and signaling hitters from second base during their 5 run 5th inning.
In game 2 Tuesday night, things got ugly. In the top of the 7th inning Takashi Saito hit Albert Pujols in the hand with a high inside pitch to load the bases, clearly not intentional considering the game situation. In the bottom of the same inning, Ryan Braun led off the inning facing Jason Motte. Motte’s first pitch was away, but the next two were, very, very inside. The first pitch missed, message sent. The second pitch however came right into Braun’s back. The intent was clearly there the whole time, and not even La Russa will argue that point, “We did not hit Braun on purpose. We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message.” We’ll get back to that. In the 10th inning with the game tied, catcher Yadier Molina was called out on strikes and threw a temper tantrum similar to one you would see when a kid takes his ball and says, “These teams are woops, I’m going home”. Bumping the umpire several times, and spitting in his face while yelling (spitting not intentional) he was quickly ejected from the game, and will almost surely get both a suspension and a fine.
I think that it’s safe to call the Cardinals the most hated team in the NL Central. With La Russa accusing other teams of cheating when they lose, to pregame brawls we’ve only before seen in the NBA, to “sending a message” not to pitch his superstar inside. Message received Tony. The message that the baseball world is receiving though, is that you are your team are sore losers. The bullpen mound at Coors Field is not too flat, and the balls in Cincinnati are not too slippery. Tony, you just cannot stand the thought of another team being better than you to the point where you have made a fool of yourself.
It’s unfortunate that Prince Fielder could not send a message of his own following the hit by pitch of Ryan Braun by hitting a 2-run homerun to give the Brewers the lead. I am not going to argue against pitching inside to send a message. In my playing days I was known to throw at a few players, for even as little as a dirty look before the game. When I sent a message though, I didn’t miss. If I did, I wouldn’t have thrown a second pitch inside to reiterate my message. I hope that Jason Motte will receive a suspension for intentionally hitting Ryan Braun and Tony La Russa also deserves a suspension for admitting to calling for it.
It was almost exactly this time last season when the Cardinals and Reds had a 3 game series in Cincinnati with the two teams competing for the Central Division. Before game 2 of the series there was a dugout and bullpen clearing brawl between the two clubs that had kicks, punches, and many words thrown each way. The Cardinals went on to sweep the series and take a 1 game lead over the Reds. After that series however, the wheels came off and the Cardinals went 22-27 the rest of the season on their way to missing the playoffs. Maybe the heat of summer and a pennant race are too much for Tony La Russa to handle now, but perhaps a repeat of last season’s free fall is in the cards, and the Milwaukee Brewers will celebrating an NL Central Division championship just as the Reds did in 2010. If you really want to get some goosebumps, the Brewers and Cardinals will face off again next week August 9-11, the same dates in 2010 that the Reds and Cardinals held their series.
On a sad note, I want to conclude this post by remembering a Brewer fan, Marilyn “Bummy” Rathkamp. Marilyn passed away on July 26th, and although she was blind in her later years she never stopped following the Brewers, listening to Bob Ueker every game she could. After her passing one of her sons did credit her for the 7 game winning streak the Brewers were on. Marilyn will be missed.