"Yadi's trying to fire his team up," Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler said. "The guy's smart. He knows what he's doing."
The Cubs might be eliminated from the postseason picture, but there are October implications on the line for the Cardinals. By the time St. Louis' players returned to their clubhouse in the wake of an 8-6 loss to the Cubs, they were able to see Trevor Story deliver a walk-off home run to beat the Brewers in the 10th inning in Colorado.
Given that the Cardinals' chances of wrapping up a National League Central crown are coming down to the wire, it was easy to understand the motivation behind Molina taking exception to the inside pitch from Hamels. The catcher was grazed by the four-seamer and barked some words in the pitcher's direction as he headed up the first-base line.
Hamels yelled back and marched toward Molina, leading to a benches-clearing incident that was swiftly calmed. With the Cubs holding a 1-0 lead at the time, relievers from both teams sprinted in from the bullpens and joined the mob scene on the infield as Cubs catcher Jonathan Lucroy and on-deck batter Matt Carpenter prevented Molina and Hamels from getting to each other.
"Yadi took exception to what happened and did something about it," St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. "We don’t want to start anything, but we aren't going to take it either. We have his back."
"I know our catcher. He's probably just trying to fire his troops up," Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright said. "He’s a fiery guy. We're in a big spot against our biggest rival. He gets angry about being pitched in. He's trying to fire us up."
That was the general consensus from the other side of the field, too.
"I think it possibly was in an attempt to incite their team a bit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
Molina said it was a little more than that.
Heading into Saturday's game, Hamels and Molina had squared off 38 times over the course of their careers. The 35-year-old left-hander had plunked Molina, 37, only once in their history, but Molina entered the game batting just .188 (6-for-32) against Hamels. The catcher also explained his view that the numbers do not show the approach Hamels has taken over the years.
"We've been in the game for many years, me facing him," Molina said. "Every time he goes inside, he goes tight. This time, I was tired of it. I let him know. He said something, I said something, but that was the end of it."
Immediately following the errant pitch, Hamels turned around on the mound and unleashed a shout of frustration out of Molina's view. When he gathered himself and went to get a new baseball, he saw Molina's reaction to the pitch. Hamels said he was not going to just stand by and let the catcher yell at him.
"We all know what's at stake over there. We were there last year," Hamels said. "When I'm not in the wrong and something that obviously just transpired, I'm going to stand up for myself, for what I believe in and not hold back."
What did Kintzler think of the whole scene?
"I thought it was stupid," he said.
In the ninth inning, Molina was at the plate with a runner on base and a chance to tie the game with a homer. Kintzler, who was filling in for closer Craig Kimbrel (shut down for the season), got the catcher to fly out to center field.
Once the final out was secured and Kintzler had his first save of the year, the pitcher waved his finger, as if to say, "Not today," as he walked off the mound.
"I just liked that they weren't going to celebrate with us tonight," Kintzler said. "So they've got to wait another day. It's all in competitive nature, especially with benches clearing and all that stuff, and the fact that Yadi's up just makes it a little more fun."
St. Louis will take its one-game lead into Sunday's regular-season finale. With a win or a Brewers loss on Sunday, the Cardinals will clinch the division title and plan for a trip to Atlanta to face the Braves in the NL Division Series, beginning on Thursday. A loss by the Cardinals and a win by the Brewers would result in St. Louis hosting a Game 163 tiebreaker on Monday to determine the division champion. The loser of that game would face the Nationals in the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday in Washington.
"Yadi was just trying to get the guys fired up in their dugout, because it's a big couple games for him," Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said. "So I understand completely what he was trying to do. For us, it's just we've got a bunch of guys out there playing with their hair on fire. We've got nothing to lose."