Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - At Great American Ballpark (Jaime Garcia - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: Cincinnati Reds (Kickin' Johnny Cueto - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 36,964
The Cardinals and Reds wasted little time in displaying their mutual disdain - which had reached new heights when the outspoken master of "swag" (whatever that is) - Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips - felt obliged to express his feelings to the media prior to the start of a key three-game series with the Cardinals. In a rant that lasted for several minutes, his opening line cut right to the chase: "I hate the Cardinals!"
Phillips then proceeded to have an 0 for 5 performance in Cincinnati's 7-3 Monday night loss to the hated Cardinals. Not long after this game was in the books, BP's harsh comments to the media had become common knowledge to everyone in the visitor's clubhouse prior to the start of Tuesday night's game.
The game started innocently enough, when Felipe Lopez led-off with a double off Johnny Cueto - then later scored from third when Albert Pujols grounded out to Dat Dude at second base.
Despite the fact that Phillips had verbally blasted the Cardinals in a profanity-laced media diatribe just twenty-four hours ago, he felt compelled to perform his little first at bat ritual - tapping the shin guard of an unappreciative Yadier Molina - his way of saying "hello" to the rival catcher. After the initial shin guard tap, Phillips stepped away to take a few practice swings, as Molina glared as if he were trying to burn a hole in the back of Dat Dude's helmet.
It was the second greeting that really irked Yadi - who clearly wasn't in the mood to fraternize with some dude who just told the world he hated everybody wearing a Cardinal uniform. At that point, the two opposing players began discussing the issue in a manner that typically gets the other forty-eight players - along with the managers and coaches - involved in the discourse. Initially, it seems as though cooler heads prevail - but suddenly, even the peace-makers are becoming bellicose - and all hell is breaking loose.
By this time, heated words are being exchanged by the managers, as the melee escalates. Suddenly, the pushing and shoving between the opposing players becomes more aggressive, as the mass of tangled bodies moves like a tidal wave, crashing against the screen behind home plate. Chris Carpenter seems to be the primary target - his body pinned helplessly to the screen - as random punches are flying from every direction. Some of the players in the middle of this scrum are now on the ground. Backup catcher Jason LaRue is one of them - and he's now being pummeled with a series of kicks to the head by the despicable Johnny Cueto.
Eventually, after seven minutes of the rumble, the warring parties retreat back to the safety of their own dugouts. Most of the players escaped with a few scrapes and bruises. Carpenter was lucky to avoid a trip to the DL - although he was bruised and battered. LaRue wasn't as fortunate - suffering a severe concussion - which essentially ended his career.
When play resumes, only the managers - Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker - are ejected from the game.
Jaime Garcia manages to retire the side in order, as Molina storms back to the Cardinals' dugout - eager to take his turn at bat - which comes with one out in the second. Working the count full, he finally gets a pitch he can handle - depositing it in the left field bleachers for a crowd-silencing home run - one of only six home runs he'd hit all season.
After the Reds tie the game in the third, the Cardinals regain the lead in the sixth. After Pujols leads off with a single, Matt Holliday brings him in with a double - then scores when Colby Rasmus also doubles. When right fielder Chris Heisey boots the ball, Rasmus advances to third - giving Molina another RBI with a sacrifice fly to right.
The Reds answer back in the bottom of the sixth with Fernando Salas now pitching for St Louis. After getting the first out, Salas walks the next two batters - Votto and Rolen - then strikes out Johnny Gomes. Then the newest member of the Reds - Jim Edmonds - pinch hits for Heisey - and also draws a base on balls - to load the bases for Drew Stubbs - who singles to left to score Votto and Rolen - but Edmonds is thrown out trying for third. Ten years ago - his first season as a Cardinal - he might have made it. Although still a productive hitter, his wheels were now gone - and he now knew it. His great career would end in Cincinnati - a venue which saw him make two of the greatest catches by a center fielder in baseball history.
Nursing a slim 5-4 lead, the Cardinals put the game away with three runs in the seventh - the big blow being a bases loaded single off the bat of Holliday - scoring not only the lead runners - Ryan and Jay - but also Pujols when left fielder Gomes kicked the ball.
That ended the scoring, and Ryan Franklin ended the game by getting Phillips to ground out to second with two runners on base. The Redbirds completed the three-game sweep the following night with a decisive 6-1 win over what seemed to be a disoriented Reds team. St Louis came to town in second place - one game behind Cincinnati. They left town in first place - one game ahead of Cincinnati.
Somehow, the Cardinals lost all that momentum when they returned home - losing two out of three to the Cubs - as the Reds were busy sweeping the Marlins on the road. Just like that, the Cardinals were back in second place, to stay. That was a very weird season - an under-achieving season. A season that produced a winning record against their newest bitter rivals - the Reds - winning 12 of 18 games. But inexplicably, they were a combined 21-32 against five of the weakest teams in baseball - all with sub-.500 records: Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Marlins and Royals.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they were able to put the disappointment of 2010 behind them - with the miracle of 2011. Still, the improbability of losing with such startling regularity to the dregs of MLB in 2010 has me shaking my head to this day.