MILWAUKEE -- It’s a reality in 2020 that what’s said in the dugout is heard by almost everyone on the field, and that can cause trouble. Yes, even with the managers.
Cardinals skipper Mike Shildt heard something he didn't like in the bottom of the fifth inning with the Brewers leading big, and he took his displeasure to the source. Shildt strode right to the top step of Milwaukee's dugout and sparked the first of several interruptions during the Brewers' 18-3 win at Miller Park on Tuesday.
Players from both dugouts emptied onto the field as heated words were exchanged, with Shildt and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina among the most animated. Brewers first baseman Jedd Gyorko, a former Cardinal, was among those at the front line trying to calm everyone down.
Eventually, order was restored, Shildt and Brewers manager Craig Counsell were ejected and the Brewers went on to a six-run fifth inning, which followed a seven-run fourth inning, adding even more drama to a rivalry that is just getting started in 2020. This series -- five games in three days, including doubleheaders on Monday and Wednesday -- begins a stretch of 10 games in two weeks between the Cardinals and Brewers. Their earlier series in August had been postponed due to positive tests for COVID-19 within the St. Louis traveling party.
“You know, you have two weeks left and both teams want to be in the playoffs,” said Brewers designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs. “Both teams have an opportunity to do it. And that's what makes baseball fun, super competitive -- two teams going after something that only one team can have.”
The level of chatter began to intensify a few pitches earlier, when a 2-1 pitch from Cardinals reliever Rob Kaminsky to Brewers veteran Ryan Braun was called a strike by home-plate umpire John Bacon.
“No, no, no, no. That is not a strike, man,” Braun is heard telling Bacon on the Brewers’ television broadcast.
He motioned toward Molina and said to Bacon, “Just because he gets mad at you, you can’t call that a strike, man.”
Molina and Braun exchanged some more words before the at-bat continued. Two pitches later, Braun swung at a pitch and hit Molina’s left wrist as the catcher reached for the baseball. Catcher’s interference was called -- an extremely rare occurrence in Molina’s long career, as Shildt noted several times -- and Braun headed to first base while Shildt came out to check on Molina. It was only the third time in Molina's 17-year career that he had been called for catcher's interference -- and the first since Sept. 25, 2006.
It was during that check-up that Shildt became incensed by something he heard from Milwaukee's dugout and immediately walked in that direction.
“I don’t know where the insult came from. I feel like it was more directed to me, quite honestly,” Shildt said. “Did I do anything to warrant it? Perhaps. I was staring in the dugout. I will accept that. My hearing doesn’t suffer at all with a mask on.
“But I did, I did stare into the dugout. I can’t be happy with the fact that -- and look, Braun’s been in this league for a long time, he’s a good player, he’s a really good player, he’s had nice series against us. I want to make sure this is clear: There is no allegation against Ryan Braun, necessarily. It just didn’t look good. It’s the [third] catcher's inference since a guy that’s caught since [June 3, 2004], when he made his debut. It just didn’t look good when a little bit of conversation that took place prior to it. …
“There was a look in the dugout, there was something said, and at that point, all bets are off.”
Asked what was said to set off Shildt, Counsell said it was “a miscommunication” between the managers, but he declined to elaborate.
“I’m just going to kind of leave it alone,” Counsell said.
Said Shildt: “Our [track] record speaks for itself. We’re not a team with a lot of incidents. Last year, we had the least amount of player ejections and manager ejections in our league. I’m not holier than thou. None of us are. … I heard something that I didn’t appreciate. I will always have our players’ backs. I will especially have a Hall of Famer and a guy that has the most physical, mental toughness that I have ever managed and may ever manage -- I will always have his back. Clearly, he was compromised. How he continued to play, I still marvel.”
And the drama was not complete. An inning later, as the Brewers prepared to bat in the sixth, there was another heated confrontation between Molina and the umpires, apparently over the warm-up of reliever Nabil Crismatt.
Molina did eventually exit the game in the bottom of the seventh, with the Cardinals trailing, 17-3. The Brewers had never scored more than 13 runs against the Cardinals.
“It’s an emotional game, it’s part of it,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “Just move on.”
Said the Brewers’ Christian Yelich: “We try to avoid it as much as possible, but in competition, sometimes stuff like that arises. The umpires did a good job of dispersing it, moving on and continuing to play baseball after that.”