On Sunday, in front of 38,182 fans (many of whom declined an invitation to witness the Chicago Bears' 38-6 rout of the Detroit Lions), Cubs manager Dusty Baker and Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter were the lead poets to a seemingly never-ending war of words between two age-old National League rivals.
The rivalry, always regarded by some as the most intense in all of baseball anyway, has only heightened more since the Cubs' hiring of Baker in November of 2002. At the time Baker accepted the Chicago job, the Cubs had already been victimized both on and off the field by several members of the Cardinals' team, in particular starting pitcher Matt Morris.
Earlier that year, in May of '02 under then-Cubs skipper Don Baylor, Morris threatened to put a fastball in the ears of any Cubs player. Morris and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan were convinced the Cubs, in particular Sammy Sosa, were guilty of stealing signs. (Incidentally, Morris is married to Heather Reader, the former beat writer for the Cubs' official website.)
"It's bush-league baseball," Morris told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the time. "The guy's an All-Star and they're tipping off location. Somebody might get a fastball in the ear ... if that's the way they want to do it."
In September of 2003, after the Cubs had taken four of five games from the Cardinals at Wrigley earlier in the month, Morris openly admitted he was cheering on the rival Houston Astros to win the Central, and indirectly accused the Cubs of having little or no class wherever the Cardinals were concerned. The Cubs at 88-74 went on to best Houston for the division.
"I really have a respect for [Astros] players," Morris said. "When we compete against them, the games are intense but they don't have that 'I want to kill you, I hate you' attitude. When it's over, it's easy to tip your hat to the other side. It's just the way they go about it and the way we go about it. There's professionalism involved."
In his lecture about professionalism, Morris conveniently failed to mention his threats about going head-hunting at the expense of Cub hitters the year before. Morris also claimed the Cubs had an unfair advantage in the playoff race because of their September schedule as opposed to the Astros.
Earlier that month, during the five-game series at Wrigley, Baker and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa were involved in a hotly debated shouting match during one of the contests. WGN cameras caught Baker shouting, "F--- you" in La Russa's direction. The two had already shared an argument during the National League Championship Series the previous year when Baker was managing the San Francisco Giants.
Baker had finally had enough.
"It's my understanding that they've been beating up on us for a long time," he said. "So I think the best thing for [Morris] to do is just leave us alone. You know what I'm saying? Just play your game and be quiet. If he thinks it's been on so far, he's got a whole decade full of what's coming. Like I've said, we don't start nothing, but we ain't taking nothing."
Then, less than a year later in a Cubs-Cardinals series at Wrigley in July, Carlos Zambrano was involved in another flare-up between the two teams--this time with Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds. Zambrano threw at Edmonds twice and then shouted at him as he rounded the bases following a home run.
Fast forward to Sunday.
Carpenter was aiming for his Major League-best 22nd win against none other than Zambrano himself. The former allowed four runs in four innings, but that wasn't the headliner of the day. That honor was shared between both Carpenter and Baker in the second inning.
Carpenter began the inning by allowing a leadoff single to Nomar Garciaparra. He then hit Jeromy Burnitz with a pitch and after striking out Matt Murton, the Cy Young Award candidate gave up an RBI double to Corey Patterson.
While covering home plate after the play, Carpenter walked toward the Cubs' dugout, where he and Baker exchanged words. Once the hoopla subsided, no other "close calls" occurred between the two clubs the rest of the day. Neither Carpenter, nor Baker was ejected.
After the game, Baker told reporters:
"I had talked to one of their players the last time we were leaving St. Louis, and he took exception to one of our pitchers looking at him, kind of staring him down after he got a hit. Carpenter was doing the same thing to Nomar after he got that hit and punched out Murton. So I asked him, 'What are you looking at? Why are you staring at the guys?' Then when he went to back up home plate and he came over to our dugout and said, 'If you got something to say to me, then come to the mound.' That's when I got a little [frustrated], and that's when I cursed. Maybe I shouldn't have cursed."
It's not clear which players Baker was singling out. Zambrano is obviously an easy target considering his past emotions against the Cardinals and with Edmonds in particular.
The game itself was the last of the year between the Cubs and Cardinals, barring the improbable possibility of the Cubs making the playoffs as a Wildcard. The Cubs are 74-76, and 7.5 games back of Houston in the Wildcard race. The Cardinals have already clinched the Central and have baseball's best record for the second consecutive year at 95-56.
Zambrano improved to 14-5, winning his sixth decision in a row. Since June 28, he has lost only once over 16 starts. He threw a complete game on Sunday, allowing two earned runs and 10 hits. He threw 125 pitches.
The 21-4 Carpenter failed to win, but didn't lose, either. He picked up a no-decision and has not lost since June 8 against the Boston Red Sox. His last National League defeat was on May 29 against the Washington Nationals.
Murton, an All-Star at Double-A West Tenn this season, hit his fifth home run with the major league club to break a 4-4 tie in the sixth inning and put the Cubs ahead, 5-4. Todd Walker later added a solo home run with Jeromy Burnitz capping off the Cubs' scoring with an RBI sacrifice fly. Walker has 12 home runs this season; Burnitz has 83 RBIs.
The Cubs have Monday off before opening a three-game series in Milwaukee Tuesday. Jerome Williams (5-8, 4.30 ERA) is scheduled to face Doug Davis (10-10, 3.95 ERA) in the series opener at 6:35 p.m. CDT. The game can be seen locally on WCIU-TV in Chicago.
The Brewers are a half-game behind the Cubs in the Central at 73-76. Milwaukee is 7-6 against the Cubs this season, including 5-2 at Miller Park where they swept the Cubs in May.
The Cubs finished 10-6 against the Cardinals for their first winning season against the Redbirds since 2001.