CINCINNATI -- Things became chippy between the Reds and Cubs during the fourth inning of Game 2 of their Saturday doubleheader. Five were ejected between the two clubs, and the benches cleared before order was restored.
Even after the game, a 6-5 walk-off victory for Cincinnati on a bases-loaded wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning, there were still disagreements about how events transpired.
This much is certain. It all started when a first-pitch fastball appeared to slip out of the hand of Reds rookie starter Tejay Antone to leadoff batter Anthony Rizzo, who homered twice in Game 1. Even though Antone was looking at his hand after the ball sailed to the backstop, all four umpires convened to chat before home-plate umpire Nic Lentz quickly issued warnings to both benches to prevent more issues.
“It's just a scary situation,” Rizzo said. “We've played against the Reds a long time and they do like to move my feet. It's just part of their reports -- it's been for years. I don't think any pitcher would purposefully throw at someone's head.
“I give the benefit of the doubt to every pitcher, especially Antone. He's a rookie. He's been throwing really well. The pitch inside was definitely for a purpose. It's just, it's at the head and that's scary stuff.”
Both managers appeared unhappy with the warning. But Cubs manager David Ross continued to argue from the dugout and re-emerged.
“I thought our dugout got pretty animated and the umpires stepped in and issued warnings, which I didn't understand,” Ross said. “We hadn't done anything from our perspective. A young man tried to take things into his own hands and send a message, and then it kind of escaped from there."
Ross and Cubs associate pitching, catching and strategy coach Mike Borzello were ejected. It was Ross’ first career ejection as a manager.
"It just looked like the young man on the mound was trying to send a message to one of our best players, throwing behind him or over his head or at his head, however you want to look at it,” Ross said. “And then in the inning before, kind of staring in and saying some things. It just looked like he was trying to send a message to a guy that was having a really good day, and maybe trying to make him uncomfortable.”
Antone denied throwing intentionally at Rizzo’s head.
“My ball was running a little bit more today, which isn’t a problem. It happens sometimes,” Antone said. “I adjusted my aiming spot a little bit more towards him so it would run to the inside part of the plate like a front-hip four-seamer. I let it rip and it just went up. It stayed true on that one. It is what it is. … I know a lot of people are saying it was intentional -- it wasn’t.”
However, Antone did not deny that there was some back and forth happening between him and a rambunctious Cubs bench.
“The second inning, they were chirping at me for grunting on a few fastballs,” said Antone, who struck out the first two batters in that inning. “So after the inning, I gave them another grunt. Just part of the game. You chirp back and forth. It was all fun and games, especially now that we can hear everyone very clear. There are no fans to bleed out some of that chirping. They were chirping at me, kind of giving me some girly grunts. So I gave them a grunt back and let them know I’m here to strike people out.”
That would not be the end of the affair.
In the bottom of the fourth, new Cubs reliever Adbert Alzolay threw a fastball up high and inside to second batter Shogo Akiyama. Joey Votto, the Reds' designated hitter, could be heard yelling to the field from the dugout, and then he exchanged expletives with Kyle Schwarber on Chicago's bench.
Reds manager David Bell came out for another conversation with the umpires.
“Just to be very, very clear -- and the other team can take it any way they want -- but I know there's absolutely no way that we throw at anyone, certainly not anyone's head,” said Bell, who has been ejected three times this year and 11 times in two seasons.
“After the ball went over Shogo's head, there was some yelling back and forth, and I went out to just make sure that none of our players got thrown out of the game. I was told it was up -- the pitch was up and in so they agreed to talk to the other umpires just to make sure that the other umpires didn't see something different and think it was intentional. Apparently they just decided the pitch slipped.”
As Bell talked with the umpires, Rizzo started yelling at him from first base. That brought Votto and Jesse Winker out of the dugout to try and confront Rizzo. First-base umpire Dan Bellino warned both players to stop, and when they didn’t, Bellino ejected both of them. Bell was also ejected as the benches and bullpens started to empty on both sides.
“I went over to get an explanation for what happened. And then I believe Anthony Rizzo started walking towards me and yelling at me,” Bell said. “I don't know what he was saying, it didn't really matter to me. And at that point, a couple of our players jumped over the railing and the umpire just started throwing everybody out of the game. Not everybody, but Jesse Winker, Joey Votto and myself.”
Order was soon restored without any punches exchanged.
“Just a lot of frustration,” Rizzo said. “That's what happens when you can hear everything and both dugouts are going back and forth to each other, and the game's starting to get delayed. [Bell] was talking to the umpires. David Bell was my infield coach for a few years here and I absolutely loved playing for him and he's taught me a lot. It's just the emotions of the game. You see Votto standing up for his guys, Rossy's standing up for me and our dugout, standing up for me, which I appreciate.
“Having each other’s backs and the Reds and all their guys and David Bell are going to have each other's backs and we're going to have our backs. That's what happens when you're competing anytime through baseball, but especially this year when it's all heightened and you can hear every little thing.”