Reds and Cards prepare for another war
CINCINNATI — The firestorm rivalry between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals trickles beyond the baselines and spreads in all directions of the compass.
It involves a firing, charges of head-hunting, doctored baseballs, untreated baseballs, heated quotes, poor medical advice and false weather reports.
Sometimes the off-the-field stuff is more entertaining than the on-the-field stuff involving the two franchises — one established and the other re-establishing itself to challenge the St. Louis kingdom.
Clearly and plainly, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals don't like each other, starting right at the top.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty was not, and is not, pleased with the Cardinals after they removed him forcibly from his GM chair in 2007 after 11 years and a bucket of championships. Jocketty brought the team from nowhere to everywhere and was fired with one year remaining on his contract.
Although he has far too much class to convey it, Jocketty was popping his buttons after his new Reds beat his old Cardinals in last year's National League Central chase.
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker and St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa are never on anybody's guest list for the same party and have had more disagreements than China and Taiwan.
Johnny Cueto faces the Cardinals Saturday afternoon, his first appearance against St. Louis since the Aug. 10 brawl last season for which Cueto was suspended for seven games and fined. His indiscretion was kicking catcher Jason LaRue and pitcher Chris Carpenter with his spikes while pinned against the backstop screen during the free-for-all.
Cueto said he was defending himself, but the Cardinals thought his use of baseball spikes was overkill.
The fight was ignited after Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips expressed how much he dislikes the Cardinals with some blue-tinged words.
But there was history between the teams long before that infamous fight in Great American Ball Park last year.
The fact that the Reds and Cardinals are now the two best teams in the National League Central only intensifies a rivalry filled with sparks and side issues.
It probably began in 2007 when Reds pitcher Aaron Harang let a fastball slip and hit Gary Bennett in the back of the head. LaRussa said Harang should have been suspended for two weeks for head-hunting, even though Harang had no reason to throw at Bennett or any other member of the Cardinals.
Then, in 2009 LaRussa and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan accused pitcher Bronson Arroyo of using pine tar to get a firmer grip on slick baseballs.
And LaRussa took it a step higher early last season when he accused the Reds of not properly rubbing the baseballs with the famous Delaware River mud that is applied to all game balls. LaRussa said the Reds left the baseball too glossy and slick.
So far this year, former St. Louis outfielder Jim Edmonds, who finished last season with the Reds, accused Cincinnati's medical staff of improperly treating his sore knee, preventing him from making a comeback this season.
When the Reds visited St. Louis this April, it was Baker's turn to complain. He accused LaRussa and the Cardinals of withholding weather information from the Reds and the umpires before a game that was delayed after the top of the first inning, then played while tornados assaulted the St. Louis area and closed the airport for two days.
Reds starting pitcher Edinson Volquez warmed up before the game, so after the hour delay following the top of the first, he was unable to take the mound. Meanwhile, LaRussa, allegedly knowing that a heavy storm was coming, started a relief pitcher in the top of the first, then inserted the scheduled starting pitcher, Kyle McClellan after the rain delay, infuriating Baker.
The biggest explosion so far was last year's Ultimate Fighting Championship, Baseball Division, after Phillips expressed his personal distaste for anybody wearing redbirds on their chests.
The next day, as Phillips led off the bottom of the first, he did what he always does as he walks into the batter's box. He tapped catcher Yadier Molina on the shin guards with his bat.
Molina leaped up and got into Phillips' face and it was as if somebody rang the ball at ringside.
During the skirmish around home plate, Cueto was pinned against the backstop and while sitting on the brick wall he lashed out with his spikes, cutting pitcher Chris Carpenter and giving catcher Jason LaRue a concussion with a couple of kicks with his spikes to LaRue's face.
Suddenly, instead of Phillips, Cueto became Public Enemy No. 1 in St. Louis, although Phillips was booed heavily every time he showed his face, including in a St. Louis mall.
LaRue, who admitted he had suffered close to 20 concussions, dating back to his high school football days, retired after the season.
"I wanted to retire on my own terms, but having to retire because I was kicked in the head and suffered another concussion really stinks," he said.
The most outspoken member of the Cardinals was Carpenter, who was fined but not suspended for his part in the melee.
"All I know is we exchanged words and the next thing I know I was in the net with somebody kicking me in the back from behind," he said "I wasn't throwing any punches, nobody was throwing any punches, and then we've got some guy kicking me in the back and ends up kicking my backup catcher in the face and splitting his face open.
"He could have done some real damage, he got him in the side of his eye, he got him in his nose, he got him in his face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I've never seen anything like that. He got kicked square in the side of the face with spikes. C'mon, give me a break."
So all the props are set on the stage, with Cueto and Carpenter missing facing each other by one day. Cueto goes against Kyle McClellan Saturday and Carpenter faces Travis Wood Sunday.
LaRussa, though, will not be in the St. Louis dugout. He is suffering from shingles and is not on the trip.