CINCINNATI — The St. Louis Cardinals are coming to town so it was natural for the media to congregate around the dressing stall inhabited by Brandon Phillips.
Phillips always says he doesn’t like any opposing team of his Cincinnati Reds, but he has a special black fleck residing in a small portion of his large heart for the Cardinals.
Mostly it is because the Cardinals always are the team that blocks the path of the Reds toward the top of the National League Central standings.
And it is no different this year. The Cardinals will arrive with a 2-game lead or a 3-game lead over the Reds. It depends on the outcome of their Thursday night game against Arizona before the start of the three-game weekend series beginning Friday night.
It is their visit, although the Reds already have made two stops in St. Louis and are 2-4, losing both series two games to one.
And, of course, there is history, hot blood, between the Cardinals and Reds. It has been an intense rivalry for years, but Phillips brought it a boiling point in 2010 when he publicly laid some heavy uncomplimentary remarks on the Cardinals a day before a series in Cincinnati began.
It boiled over onto the field the first time Phillips came to bat and tapped catcher Yadier Molina’s shin guards, as he did at the time to all catchers. Molina took umbrage and ripped off his mask and got into Phillips’ face.
A quick shove and soon the home plate area was Gettysburg. Fights erupted everywhere.
At the time Phillips was coming off an injury but said he would play one-armed and one-legged against the Cardinals.
Once again Phillips is coming off an injury. He missed the three-game just-completed series against the Colorado Rockies after taking a pitch off his forearm in Pittsburgh Sunday.
He is ready for the Cardinals, though, and he is saying all the calming things.
“I’m going to tell you this, I feel the Cardinals are the best team in baseball right now,” he said. “They are a great team. These are the teams against which you have to step up your game. I’m looking forward to it and the team is looking forward to it.
“If you beat the best, it really shows what you are all about when you play against the best teams,” he added. “They’ve played us good and hopefully we can get some wins. I know the stands will be full and the fans are looking forward to it, too.”
It isn’t the best of times for the Reds right now. They enter the series on a two-game losing streak, the first time this season they lost two straight at home. And they were hammered, nailed and buried in their last game by the Rockies, 12-4.
But the Cardinals could come to town on a three-game losing streak and they, too, were pounded Wednesday, 10-3, by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Even with the two straight losses, the Reds have a 21-9 record in Great American Ball Park, second best home record in the National League behind the Atlanta Braves. But the Cardinals are 20-10 away from home, best record in the National League on the road.
“These are real big games,” said manager Dusty Baker. “I don’t get too excited in advance of a series because it takes away from what you have to do today.”
Baker said that before the 12-4 loss to the Rockies and said, “As soon as this game is over I’ll start getting excited on the off day (Thursday). I’ll take my kid swimming, watch some games and do some homework and my wife is here so I’ll enjoy some home cooking.” Baker’s wife lives in California, but comes to Cincinnati in the summer.
And that’s exactly what the Reds hope to do — enjoy some home cooking