All of a sudden the Chicago Cubs seem to have a new slogan: You play baseball, we’ll play basebrawl. Not that it’s going to stop the Washington Nationals from finishing what they started Thursday night, a 9-2 drubbing to complete a four-game sweep. But by cracky it’ll make us feel like men’s men to teach you a lesson, you miserable pudknockers!
Yep, that’s the way for a team who got outscored 31-9 over the four games in Washington to show the world who the men are in this game. Let that upstart Harper brat pick himself up, dust himself off, and roll all over us, will you? Let’s see how smart he looks when we knock him on his ass after we’re so far down in this game we wouldn’t be able to get back up with a rocket.
That’ll teach the Nats to play like champions-to-be against the Cubs, who’ve now dropped seventeen of eighteen road games and built a six-game losing streak overall in the bargain. Who cares if the Nats are in a pennant race for real while the Cubs couldn’t out-race a millipede in a manual wheelchair? They want to pour it on when they’ve already got themselves a 7-2 lead? We’re not gonna take that lying down!
No, they were going to make sure Bryce Harper took one lying down, or close enough to it. Lendy Castillo, the Cubs’ righthanded relief pitcher, opened the bottom of the sixth with a fastball right at Harper’s belt. Castillo couldn’t even think about trying to argue that the ball got away from him. And at first Cub catcher Steve Clevenger looked like a first-class diplomat. When Harper, understandably enough, took a couple of steps toward the mound, Clevenger merely got around to his front and urged him back and away.
That’s when Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman hustled out toward Harper to make sure the lad didn’t get himself into any further hot water as the benches and bullpens poured out for the second time on the night. And that was where the entire field crowd might have dissipated after a little barking and no punching. Except that Gio Gonzalez, Wednesday night’s winning pitcher, felt a Cub paw on his shoulder, and heard another Cub barking at him, and the two dissipating sides poured back in.
This time, Clevenger surrendered his diplomatic corps credentials and gave a shove to the Nats’ Michael Morse. This is something along the line of Tom Thumb challenging Paul Bunyan to a boxing match. It’s also guaranteed to cause a scrum within the scrum, which is exactly what happened. All this while Harper, Werth, and Zimmermann did their best to stay on the peripheries. “You come into our house and try to mess with our kid brother,” Gonzalez told the Washington Post after the brawlgame, “that’s how we look at it. You’re not just going to come in and please as you do with that.”
Clevenger got the ho-heave. So did Nats relief pitcher Michael Gonzalez and Cubs reliever Manny Corpas, who was seen rather vividly on camera jawing, pointing, and for all anyone could tell threatening various mayhems to various Nats.
By the time any semblance of order could be restored, and Harper could continue his turn at bat, the only question remaining before the house was what the hell Castillo was still doing in the game. Maybe the warnings went to both sides after he bent Harper, but even the blind could have seen he left no room to wiggle into a claim that the ball got away from him somehow.
As things turned out, Harper finally struck out, but Zimmerman chased Castillo with a base hit. Jeff Beliveau came in to relieve and found no further relief when Adam LaRoche hit his first service into the right field seats.
Just a night earlier, after getting thumped 9-1, with Harper himself leading the mayhem with two bombs and the Nationals just about running out of bleachers into which to deposit their launches, Cubs manager Dale Sveum—who’d been thrown out in the third for arguing balls and strikes—seemed to know the score well enough. “It’s just men playing against boys right now,” he mourned.
That was Wednesday, this was Thursday, and the tensions probably started in earnest in the fifth, after the Nats an inning earlier poured it on further with three more runs. Now, up 7-2 with the bases loaded and two out, Werth took a big cut on 3-0. Too big so far as Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk seemed to be concerned. He started jawing from his dugout at Nats third base coach Bo Porter, who could be forgiven for not taking kindly to Quirk telling him something along the line, perhaps, of how nice it isn’t to keep playing guns blazing when you’re already burying the opposition.
Porter may have left the Nats’s broadcast team aghast when he strode over to the rail of the Cubs’ dugout. But Quirk was the one ejected. And, the instigator. Says whom? Says Thursday night’s home plate ump, Jerry Layne, leaving no doubt. “The fracas was started because all that stuff that happened that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter. And the obscenities that he screamed out, I just felt was inappropriate and that’s what caused everything,” the husky ump told reporters.
Inappropriate? If the ducks hadn’t been on the pond at the time, who’s to say with the mood of the Cubs that Werth wouldn’t have gotten one thrown toward his own gut.
Harper had already returned under the Cubs’ skins as early as the first inning, when he whacked and ran out a nifty triple, diving head first into third just to be sure, then scored on another dive while Zimmerman was grounding out. In the bottom of the fourth the lad got even friskier, beating out an infield hit with Kurt Suzuki and Werth on ahead of him, Suzuki scoring, Werth to third and Harper to second on Starlin Castro’s muff, before Werth and Harper came home on Zimmerman’s single.
Werth was in position to swing 3-0 with ducks on the pond in the fifth after Ian Desmond—who’d be knocked into umpire Bill Miller during the sixth-inning soiree after Clevenger took an open-hand swing at him—drew a one-out walk off Castillo and stole second. Danny Espinosa singled him over to third, then stole second himself after a second out, before Zimmerman drew a full-count walk to load them up. That Werth skied to right for the side almost went forgotten while Quirk launched his screed to Porter and both sides launched out of the dugouts and the pens.
Davey Johnson, a manager to whom the word “quit” is an obscenity, illustrated precisely why the Nats are where they are and the Cubs are where they aren’t. “Here we are in the fifth inning,” he said to reporters after the game. “We’re in a pennant race, we’re going to swing 3-0, we’re going to do everything. We ain’t stopping trying to score runs. Certainly, a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach’s frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we’re going to keep competing.”
Handing it to them for a couple of days? By the time the Nats finally got through with them, the Cubs were probably calling in search and rescue teams to help them recover their heads.
They weren’t anywhere to be seen in Nationals Park all week long. These Cubs didn’t even pretend to keep competing. They got steamrolled. And there was no way they were going to leave town before letting the Nats know who the men around here were.
Not these Cubs. Why, their rebuilding effort is only going to go to its one hundred and fifth year. Big deal.