Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Brewers Have a Real Rival

Nothing beats when your favorite team in a sport is playing well and winning their division/league. It's a great thing to watch, and it usually means your team is pretty good.

(Exception: If the team in question plays in the NFC West, the NHL Southeast, or the American League Central.)

For me personally, it's been a great year, with the Packers and UMD hockey claiming championships. Now, the Brewers are in first place in the National League Central.

If anyone was wondering who the Brewers had developed a blood-boiling rivalry with since leaving the American League Central, it was again confirmed over the last two nights.

It's Tony LaRussa and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The National League Central race has a Cinderella ... a relative newcomer to the baseball hierarchy. That's the Brewers.

What the race needs is a heel. A team that everyone but its own fans can hate. A team that can get the fans' blood boiling.

Thanks to LaRussa, whose actions and words are those of a man who thinks he invented baseball, we have a heel in this race.

As if LaRussa hadn't already earned enough scorn in Milwaukee -- the shirt-untucking saga, the beanballs, and his best players admiring home runs like LaRussa must admire the image he sees in the bathroom mirror -- the Cardinals rolled into town Monday and almost immediately started the wahhh-mbulance.

The Brewers mess with their scoreboard to gain an advantage.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa filed a complaint with the umpiring crew during that series opener, suggesting the LED "ribbon" board that wraps around the ballpark above the loge level shone brighter while the Brewers batted. The suggestion was that the lighting was darker when the Cardinals batted, making it more difficult to see the ball in their 6-2 defeat.

Umpiring crew chief Gary Darling forwarded that complaint to Major League Baseball vice president of baseball operations Joe Garagiola, Jr., who then placed a telephone call to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.

They also steal signs.

Sensing the Brewers had hacked their signs, the Cardinals changed them immediately after Morgan, and Carpenter struck out two of the next four batters to end the inning.

"If there's something there, there's something there," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "If there's not, there's not."

Yeah, the Brewers stole signs in an inning where they hit precisely two balls hard, one of which came with no one on base. The other was a hanging curveball my nine-year-old could have ripped for a line drive hit.

That was just from Monday. Then Tuesday happened. Take it away, Tom Haudricourt.

Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy called the St. Louis Cardinals' retaliation for Albert Pujols getting hit with a pitch Tuesday night "ridiculous."

"That was clearly intentional," Lucroy said of the Cardinals' drilling of Ryan Braun in the bottom of the seventh by Jason Motte, who missed Braun with his first attempt and then drilled him with his second. Motte, the Cardinals' hardest thrower, obviously was left in the game to hit Braun because manager Tony La Russa removed him after he did it.

"That was ridiculous," said Lucroy. "We didn't hit Albert Pujols on purpose. Are you kidding me? In that situation? If we wanted to put him on base, we would have walked him. That's ridiculous."

With two on and no outs in the top of the inning and the Brewers holding a one-run lead, reliever Takashi Saito came up and in with a pitch to Pujols and struck him on the left wrist. Pujols was in obvious pain but stayed in the game, and Motte drilled Braun to open the bottom of the inning.

"We were trying to come inside and get a groundball to third base," said Lucroy, "like they did to me when I hit a ground ball to third with the bases loaded (in the bottom of the seventh). That's what you do in that situation. That's ridiculous.

"I think it's stupid (to hit Braun). I don't think anybody needs to pay for that. There's no way we were trying to do that on purpose. We shouldn't get punished for something we weren't trying to do on purpose. Look at the situation. If we were getting beat by a lot or we were beating them by a lot and that happens, maybe we did it on purpose.  I mean, come on. We weren't trying to hit anybody.

"It's unbelievable. If we were trying to hit him on purpose, then McClellan hit Nyjer Morgan on purpose (in the 10th inning). It's the same thing."

As for Motte throwing two pitches at Braun and not getting ejected, Lucroy said, "That's obviously on purpose. He definitely should have been thrown out. We all thought that, too."

Yeah, Saito threw at Pujols with two on and no one out in a one-run game. I don't see why not. I mean, that seems like a good baseball tactic.

To make matters worse, LaRussa's catcher, Yadier Molina, completely lost his marbles in the tenth inning when called out on strikes on a close pitch. After some physical contact and spitting, Molina was led away by his teammates.

I have to figure the spitting was an accident. The Cardinals are way too classy to do something like that.

As if that wasn't enough, LaRussa went after Milwaukee fans in his postgame press conference.

"Yeah, real scary," La Russa said. "They almost got him yesterday too. There's nothing intentional about it. But they throw the ball in here and that's what all those idiots up there -- not idiots -- all those fans up there are yelling. Do you know how many bones there are in the hand? Do you know how many bones there are in the face? That's where those pitches are. And Braun -- we were trying to pitch him in too, and it was just a little stinger. I don't want to even hear about Braun getting a little pop in the back, when we almost lose this guy (Pujols) in several ways. The ball up and in is a dangerous pitch."

Yeah, Tony, because your precious Cardinals never pitch anyone high and tight.

Today's lesson: Tony LaRussa invented baseball, and he is the true commissioner.

And unless you're a Cardinals fan, you're rooting for the Brewers (or Pirates, who are getting hopeless at this point) in the NL Central. What fun is it to root for the smarmy heel?

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