10/12/11 1:48 PM ET
Nothing wrong with old-fashioned NLCS tension
Heated rivals Brewers, Cards on verge of postseason eruption
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
When the Cardinals play hosts to the Brewers on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, you don't think the folks at TBS will get a few more clicks to their channel? Chris Carpenter is slated as the Cardinals' starting pitcher, and he is about as popular around the Brewers' side of Wisconsin as stale cheese.
Actually, worse ... as popular as Tony La Russa.
This should be fun.
Nothing like a good old-fashioned feud in baseball, just as long as nobody gets hurt. So, as they like to say in NASCAR these days, "Have at it, boys," even though executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre did and said what he had to do and say before the series.
Torre chatted individually with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and the Cardinals' La Russa about the need for civility.
"Even though I didn't think [the feud] was something on the front burner for them, I wanted to make sure," Torre said over the weekend. "I would feel badly if I didn't say it. We don't want to issue warnings. That's not the way you should start the postseason."
No, but if the sparks fly -- well, so be it.
Just the threat of such a thing brings even more electricity to the stretch drive of a baseball season that has been full of it since the last day of the regular season.
You just don't want things to escalate to the point where somebody is shoving a 72-year-old man to the ground, or something.
Torre knows about that. He was managing the Yankees back then during what was officially called the 2003 ALCS, but unofficially, it was the stuff of big-time wrestling. It figured. The Yankees were playing their Great Satan, the Red Sox. At one point, there was an inevitable skirmish on the field along the way to "The Shove" from Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, who had no regard for the considerably older Don Zimmer, who was Torre's bench coach.
"When you play each other a lot, there is more wood to burn," Torre said, referring to the Yankees and the Red Sox sharing the AL East, while the Brewers and Cardinals are in the NL Central.
Eighteen times. That's how often the Brewers and the Cardinals see each other during the regular season. If you consider they've also become good at the same time in recent years -- with several high-octane players on both sides -- you see why the friction has increased.
Here's a quick review, and remember Nyjer Morgan, since he is a big part of the fire that makes this rivalry burn.
Morgan plays for the Brewers these days under a bunch of self-imposed aliases (Tony Plush ranks as the most prominent), but Morgan was on the Nationals when he evolved into the Cardinals' least favorite opponent. Among other things, while with Washington, Morgan blindsided St. Louis catcher Bryan Anderson with a forearm last season.
With Milwaukee earlier this season, Morgan threw a wad of tobacco toward Carpenter on the mound after striking out. Then again, Carpenter wasn't exactly innocent in the matter.
After the K, the pitcher cursed at Morgan.
Albert Pujols left his position at first base to confront Morgan, and then the benches cleared in a hurry.
There have been more than a few purpose pitches between the two teams through the years, and La Russa accused the Brewers of cheating while playing at home. He claims they changed the lighting on a message board when the Cardinals were at the plate.
If that wasn't enough, the normally mild-mannered Zack Greinke, who suffers from social anxiety disorder, ripped Carpenter out of nowhere. Said Greinke to reporters before the series, "[Carpenter's] attitude out there is like a phony attitude ... he yells at people. He just stares people down and stuff. When you do that, some people will get mad. A lot of guys on our team don't like Carpenter."
The point is, nobody associated with Milwaukee will get a guided tour this week of the Gateway Arch by La Russa, Carpenter or any of their peers -- not unless the Cards plan to reach the top of the Arch, grab the likes of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and dangle them over the edge of the thing by their toes.
He'll never admit it, but you just know Pujols was thinking about this ongoing feud just a little Monday night in Milwaukee during the first inning. After he ripped a two-run homer, he stood at the plate and watched, then he watched some more. Then, as he kept studying the flight of the ball, he casually flipped his bat in a way to suggest that he was trying to prove a point to those in the Brewers' dugout.
Nothing erupted after that.
Well, except for a slew of St. Louis runs.
With much help from Pujols, who finished 4-for-5 with that homer, three doubles and five RBIs, the Cardinals flew to a 12-3 blowout that tied the best-of-seven series at a game apiece. More interestingly, there were no significant issues between the two teams during the Pujols Power Show.
As for Game 1, there was that umpire's warning in the first inning after the Cardinals' Jaime Garcia hit Fielder on the arm with his next pitch after Braun ripped a monster homer. The Cardinals said the plunking wasn't intentional, and the Brewers said later they believed as much. Then both sides shrugged it off -- especially the Brewers. After all, they erupted at the plate for a 9-6 victory.
Significant issues are coming, though. You just know both teams are a drilled batter away from an explosion.
Maybe it will take somebody sliding cleats high into a guy covering a base. Or maybe it will happen from tongue-to-tongue action, with somebody yelling at a member of the other team, and that other person responding in less-than-flattering terms.
Then, before you know it, a mass of humanity will be pouring out of the dugouts and the bullpens. There will be a push here and a grab there, then a few screams as the drama rises for the rest of that particular game, right through the end of the series.
What's wrong with that?
Nothing worth worrying about.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TMooreSports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.