Monday, March 21, 2011, 3:47 p.m.
Updated at 6:31 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
JUPITER, Fla. -- Benches emptied and managers Jim Riggleman and Tony La Russa got into a heated argument during Monday's spring training game between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals after three batters were plunked in a span of two innings.
Riggleman, who used to work with La Russa and has long considered the veteran skipper one of his closest friends in baseball, was upset after Cardinals reliever Miguel Batista hit Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond in the top of the seventh. Players from both teams spilled onto the field, with Washington center fielder Nyjer Morgan leading the charge and having to be held back by coach Trent Jewett.
Morgan may have inadvertently instigated the entire thing when he made contact with Albert Pujols trying to beat out a fifth-inning bunt. The Cardinals star first baseman, who had to reach toward Morgan to receive the throw from his catcher, threw down his glove and began shaking his left hand.
Morgan didn't appear to do anything wrong, but his history with the Cardinals -- he went out of his way during a game last summer to run into catcher Bryan Anderson -- may have exacerbated things.
Morgan declined to speak to reporters other than to say: "That ain't nothing. Standard baseball. Little melee." His teammates and coaches came to his defense.
"Just a misinterpretation of something that happened," Riggleman said. "I know they felt that Pujols got hit and that was intentional by Nyjer. And that's totally inaccurate. Nyjer was running to first. The throw took Pujols to that side of the base a little bit. You certainly don't want to see that happen."
Clean play or not, two batters later, St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter plunked Laynce Nix in the arm, a pitch the entire Nationals dugout felt was intentional and a retaliation.
"No question about that," Nix said. "As for why, I think you have to go over there and ask them that. ... I'm just playing the game. I'm not sure what the reason behind all that is."
Carpenter insisted the Nix plunking was not on purpose and felt the need to return to the field after departing the game to let Nationals first base coach Dan Radison (who had jawed at him earlier) know that.
"I go out there to let him know that I didn't hit Laynce Nix on purpose," Carpenter told St. Louis reporters. "That's the most idiotic thing to hear in spring training. ... He said everybody in the dugout thought I did it on purpose. I told him they don't know me well enough to say that. It's a spring training game. What's the point?"
Whatever the case, after Carpenter hit Nix, Nationals starter Livan Hernandez felt the need to retaliate. So, in the bottom of the inning, he plunked Colby Rasmus.
"I hit the guy because he hit somebody," Hernandez said. "That's it. That's baseball."
Except that wasn't it. Two innings later, Batista (who pitched for the Nationals last season) entered from the Cardinals bullpen to face Morgan and induced a fly out to center. Then he plunked Desmond, prompting the Washington shortstop to throw his arms out in a gesture that suggested he had no idea why he had just been hit.
"It's part of the game," Desmond said. "We were really trying to keep the fans around. Once Pujols came out of the game and Carpenter came out of the game, we knew they were going to leave. So we just had to add a little entertainment for them."
Desmond had another quip for former teammate Batista, who earned a memorable nickname last summer after serving as an emergency replacement for an injured Stephen Strasburg.
"Yeah, it was intentional," Desmond said. "But, I mean, Miggy throws like Miss Iowa."
The umpiring crew Monday didn't find the situation nearly as funny. Plate umpire Fran Burke immediately issued warnings to both benches after Desmond was hit, but that didn't prevent players from each side from spilling onto the field. No punches were thrown, but Riggleman went toward La Russa multiple times, pointing at his counterpart.
"It's spring training. Sometimes guys are wild," La Russa said. "Carpenter said he didn't try to hit him. It happens to us, and it happens to them. You get hit, you think it's intentional. They get it, you think it's accidental. It's been 100 years of this type stuff. It's not going to go any further."
Said Riggleman: "Tony and I are great friends. You know, Tony and I have barked at each other a few times through the years during games. But Tony doesn't consider me a friend during the game, and I don't consider him a friend during the game. That all goes out the window. Words are exchanged. It's unfortunate that most of it happens after something that someone perceives happened that didn't really happen."
Once order was restored, the umpires convened and crew chief Angel Hernandez ejected Batista.
All that was left was for each clubhouse to defend its actions.
"You're not supposed to hit another guy," Hernandez said. "That was the problem. In old-school baseball, and La Russa knows, you hit somebody first, then you're supposed to take the next one. And that's it. It's over. But they hit another guy again. It's not fair. That is not real baseball. If you hit somebody on purpose, I go hit somebody, because he knows I know it's not cool. Then I hit somebody, and that's it. It's over. Right there. But you're not supposed to hit another guy again. It's not fair."
Bench-clearing incidents during spring training are rare events. The Nationals hadn't been involved in one at any point during the past six springs, though they weren't surprised that when something did happen, the Cardinals were in the opposing dugout.
"You guys saw what I did," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "It's very typical of playing these guys. I'll leave it at that. I've played against them a lot, and for whatever reason, you run into the same situation."
Mark Zuckerman also blogs about the Nationals at natsinsider.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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