ST. LOUIS -- Without issuing any sort of admission of guilt as to him purposefully hitting Cubs outfielder Ian Happ or not, Cardinals right-handed pitcher Miles Mikolas defended his right to protect catcher Willson Contreras in the manner that he did in the opener of this four-game series between rivals.
Two pitches after Contreras got smacked in the helmet by Happ’s backswing and was forced to leave the game with a bleeding gash, Happ was plunked in the rear by Mikolas, who wanted it known that he was defending his teammate.
“In any circumstance, I’ve got Willson’s back; he’s my catcher, and I consider him a really good friend now,” said Mikolas, who was ejected three batters into the 10-3 loss to the Cubs on Thursday night. “Any single one of these guys in this locker room, I go to bat for them 100 percent. That’s something we as a team believe in, always having each other’s backs. I guess that’s what the umpires thought I was doing [purposefully hitting Happ], and it’s unfortunate there was no warning or anything.”
The immediate concern was for the well-being of Contreras, who was hit in the right side of his helmet. Contreras went to the ground after the hit, but he never lost consciousness. He felt blood trickling down the side of his head, but he pressed trainer Adam Olsen to stay in the game -- a request that was denied. After being cleared of any concussion-like symptoms, Contreras was in the clubhouse trying on hockey-style masks in hopes of returning to the lineup on Friday.
“I had a little headache earlier when I got hit, but there’s no concussion or anything like that, so that’s a good sign,” said Contreras, who opted for glue instead of stitches to close the cut on his head. “I feel fine, and I want to make sure I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
Contreras, a World Series champion with Chicago in 2016, left the Cubs for the Cardinals last December upon signing a five-year, $87.5 million free-agent contract. He said he knew Happ didn’t hit him on purpose, and the two of them hugged at home plate before Contreras left the game.
“We played together for six years, we're good friends and have a lot of love for him, so to see him go down and be bleeding from the head, it's obviously a scary moment,” said Happ, whose Cubs won their sixth straight game. “We texted a little bit after the game, and he's doing all right. So it was just a scary moment."
“First of all, as a former catcher, that backswing stuff is just scary," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It happens, and obviously Happ's not trying to do that. [Contreras] was fighting to stay in the game, and you know how tough Willson is, being around [the Cubs]. Sent him a text and hope he's all right. It's just part of the game. It stinks.”
What followed Contreras being knocked out of the game was a sequence that resulted in Mikolas being ejected. After throwing his next pitch up and in to Happ, Mikolas plunked Happ in the right hip/rear. Following a meeting among the four umpires, Mikolas was ejected.
“Even though we feel -- [home-plate umpire] Ryan [Additon] felt -- 100 percent that it was intentional, we are required to get together as a crew and discuss as a crew,” crew chief Lance Barksdale told a pool reporter. “And, to a man, we all four … it was no doubt that it was intentional. And when it’s intentional, no matter where it hits him at, he’s ejected.”
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, who was also ejected after Happ was hit and Mikolas was tossed out of the game, felt a warning should have been issued to both teams following the first up-and-in pitch after the restart.
“If the explanation was that there was intent behind the first pitch, then I feel like there should have been a warning after that first pitch, and it could have saved everybody a lot of trouble,” Marmol said.
For whatever reason, Contreras feels he’s been hit more with backswings this season than any of his previous seven MLB seasons. He said backswings are always surprising because they come after the pitch is already caught.
“During my whole career, I’ve been hit several times with backswings, but nothing like this one,” said Contreras, who was replaced by Andrew Knizner, who became just the fifth catcher in MLB history to hit two home runs in a game after coming off the bench, per the Elias Sports Bureau. “This [backswing] was really bad, and it caught me really good.”