JUPITER, Fla. — The Nationals broke their seven-game losing streak with a 7-2 win over the Cardinals on Monday that featured more drama than the score indicates with three hit batters and a bench-clearing.
It’s tough to tell what exactly initiated things but tensions were high in the game after Nyjer Morgan laid down a bunt in the fifth inning. The throw from Cardinals catcher Gerald Laird to first baseman Albert Pujols was to the outside of the first base bag and took Pujols across the bag in order to catch it. As a result, Morgan and Pujols collided slightly. Pujols was left shaking his hand as if in pain and was visited by the trainers but remained in the game.
Two batters later, Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter hit Laynce Nix in the right arm with a pitch and, in the bottom half of the inning, Nationals’ pitcher Livan Hernandez retaliated by plunking Colby Rasmus.
“I hit that guy because he hit somebody,” Hernandez said. “That’s it.”
Hernandez was finished with his work for the day — five innings on 83 pitches, allowing two runs off six hits and three walks — when the Cardinals brought in former National Miguel Batista to start the seventh inning.
Batista was warming up in the sixth alongside fellow right-hander Jason Motte, a curious sight in itself, and began the seventh by getting Morgan to fly out to center field.
Then he hit Ian Desmond in the back with a pitch and the benches cleared as Desmond, clearly unhappy, vocally began to make his way down to first base.
“There was no question in our minds that Batista was going to hit somebody,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman.
Morgan was the first man off the Nationals bench and had to be restrained by coach Trent Jewett but then was largely irrelevent in the melee. Riggleman and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who are good friends, were jawing at each other for quite some time with the Nationals’ manager getting very animated and pointing a finger in La Russa’s face.
Hernandez, who was watching from behind the left field fence while he iced his shoulder, said he was surprised the Cardinals opted to continue to escalate things by hitting Desmond after a batter from each team had already been hit.
“I was surprised because you’re not supposed to hit another guy,” Hernandez said. “That was the problem. Old school baseball, La Russa knows.
“You hit somebody first and you’re supposed to take the next one. That’s it, it’s over. They hit another guy and it’s not fair. That’s not real baseball. You hit someone on purpose, I’m going to hit somebody. I’m old school. I hit somebody and that’s it. It’s over right there. You’re not supposed to hit another guy again.”
“(La Russa’s) got a problem he can talk to me,” Hernandez continued. “He’s going to see me in the season. I’m not scared of nobody. He can talk to me and I’ll say, ‘I think it’s not fair that he hit another guy.’ It was cool. You hit somebody and somebody hits you and that’s it, it’s over.”
Adam LaRoche, for one, was not surprised by the way the Cardinals handled things.
“It’s very typical of playing these guys and I’ll leave it at that,” LaRoche said. “I’ve played against them a lot and for whatever reason ran into the same situation.”
“Nothing surprises me,” he added. “You never know. You never know what (La Russa) is thinking. You never know what he’s telling his pitchers. It’s a shame.”
There is apparently some bad blood between the teams dating back to last season when Morgan, who has said he’s making a conscious effort to reform the ways that got him into trouble often last year, ran into Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson. However, Morgan said he did not collide with Pujols on purpose on Monday and Riggleman reiterated that point, calling it “totally inaccurate.”
“It’s wrong,” Riggleman said. “He tried to beat out a bunt… If that was the case then hit Nyjer. I left Nyjer in the game, they could have hit Nyjer.”
Desmond, who turned toward the Cardinals dugout and catcher Tony Cruz as if seeking an explanation for the additional plunking, brushed the entire scrum off good-naturedly as a part of the game.
“We were really trying to keep the fans around,” Desmond said jokingly. “Once Pujols came out of the game and Carpenter came out of the game, we knew they were going to leave so we decided to add a little entertainment for them.”
“Yeah, it was intentional,” he added, “but Miggy throws like Miss Iowa.”