CHICAGO -- Tempers flared in the second inning at Wrigley Field on Monday night, moments after the Cubs’ Willson Contreras drilled a home run and exchanged words with Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.
The situation cooled down swiftly, but it made for a tense, October-like environment early on in the Cubs’ 8-3 victory over the Braves. There is a history between the pair of National League division leaders and more could be coming if the teams cross paths again in the postseason.
• Box score
“Both sides felt it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It was two teams that are competing for something very big by the end of the year. They're good. A lot of respect for them. That's what happened. That's what's going on.”
Contreras led off the second by sending a 1-2 offering from Julio Teheran into the basket atop the right-field wall, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Immediately after making contact with the pitch, Contreras turned back and looked at Flowers before running up the first-base line. Contreras pounded his chest and motioned in the direction of the Braves' dugout as he rounded first, and then he yelled at Flowers after crossing home plate.
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward -- on deck at the time -- pushed Contreras in the direction of the home dugout, but the benches and bullpens soon emptied. Anthony Rizzo was one of the first Cubs on the field as Flowers continued to bark back and forth with Chicago's players. Home-plate umpire John Tumpane issued warnings to both teams.
Players from both teams gathered around the third-base line, but things cooled off quickly and the teams separated after a few heated moments. During the war of words, Maddon made his way directly to Flowers and appeared to discuss things with the catcher calmly before returning to the dugout.
"He’s seen me long enough to know I’m not really an instigator in those types of things,” Flowers said of his chat with Maddon. “So, I gave him a quick rundown. Without making Contreras look bad, he said he’d talk to him and take care of it. I thought that was first class by Joe."
Maddon joked that it was “an exchange based on catching technique.”
“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Maddon added. “I don't really know Mr. Flowers, but we had a nice conversation. I walked away, and it was over. It really wasn't worth more than what happened. That was about all it was worth.”
Earlier in the at-bat, Teheran got a low strike call on a 1-1 pitch, which Flowers framed well at the bottom of the zone. Contreras turned and said something to the home-plate umpire before continuing on with the plate appearance. One pitch later, things escalated after the Cubs' catcher belted his 16th home run of the season.
Contreras said that while he was talking to Tumpane, Flowers chimed in, and that’s what got under his skin.
“He's great behind the plate,” Contreras said. “But, to be honest, those pitches weren't even close to the strike zone. And he got mad, because I was talking to the umpire about that. He jumped into the conversation. So, I just told him to do his job and I'd do mine.”
Flowers did not feel a hitter of Contreras’ caliber -- even one who is also a catcher -- should have complained about that kind of strike call.
“It was all unnecessary, in my opinion,” Flowers said. “If a guy is a decent hitter, he doesn’t need to complain about every call. We won’t get into every aspect of that game we just finished. But, he got plenty of calls for his guys, too.”
From that point, Contreras continued to spark a Cubs lineup that has been trying to find its footing in recent weeks. Contreras -- who was up against Braves catcher Brian McCann and Milwaukee’s Yasmani Grandal in the All-Star Starters Election -- added an RBI single in the fourth and knocked in one more with a groundout in a five-run fifth.
Teheran took the loss after allowing seven runs on nine hits in four-plus innings.
“[Contreras] plays with that chip on his shoulder,” said Cubs lefty Jon Lester, who spun his first quality start since June 3. “He's not going to let anybody tell him he can't do something. Sometimes, things like tonight happen, and it is what it is. That's going to happen. We're all intense competitors, and we all want to win.”
Before the turbulent exchange between clubs in the bottom of the second, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson took issue with the Cubs in the top of the inning. During his at-bat in that frame, the slugger turned toward Chicago’s dugout and pressed a finger to his lips.
This also marked the second time this season that the Cubs and Braves cleared the benches. On April 1, when Atlanta dealt Chicago an 8-0 drubbing, shortstop Dansby Swanson took exception to a hard slide into second by Cubs infielder David Bote. The players spilled onto the infield, but that incident was calmed quickly, too.
“I don't think this is the first time it's happened against the Braves,” Contreras said.
The Braves had another run-in with Contreras a few years ago.
On July 7, 2016, Contreras was behind the plate and former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur stared down the catcher after an inside pitch in the ninth inning. Contreras stood up and the two exchanged words, leading to a mob scene on the field in that contest, as well. Now a broadcaster for the Braves, Francoeur discussed that moment on air after Monday’s altercation between Contreras and Flowers.
"Now looking back when you're done,” Francoeur said during the broadcast, “quite frankly, I wish I would've just thrown a haymaker and been done with it. If I knew that was my last year, I would've."
Contreras snorted out a laugh when told of Francoeur’s in-game comments.
“What can I say about that, man? Poor guy. That's all,” Contreras said. “It makes me laugh. He should behave as a professional, you know? If he's going to be behind the screen, he should be a professional. He was a ballplayer. He played a lot in the big leagues. But now that he's behind the screen, he should have respect for everyone.
“He knows. And he knows better. He knows how things go on the field. That's it. He's a poor guy."
As it happens, Contreras is the older brother of Braves Minor League catcher William Contreras, who is Atlanta’s No. 6 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. The Cubs' catcher was jokingly asked if he will yell at his little brother when they are eventually playing against each other in the big leagues.
Contreras cracked a smile.
“When I go out there, I don't have friends,” Contreras said. “He's the same way. He knows that when we go out there, we fight for our team and we just care about our team. He's going to do his job. I'm going to do my job. So, if he's up, it's going to happen. Even my brother. He knows.”
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.