The Brewers have won only two of five games played since the All-Star break against divisional opponents, but as in many of the team’s 45 losses this season, there are gleaming positives for the everyday fan. New acquisition Felipe Lopez had four hits and a walk, for example.
Most notably, catcher Jason Kendall showed yet again why baseball lifers are so fond of the cagey veteran. Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens came up to bat for himself in the bottom of the eighth, sitting on a 7-2 lead and presumably set to finish out the game. Brewers pitcher Chris Smith hit Karstens in the arm on the first pitch, and Karstens took a few steps toward the mound (watch it here).
Kendall lept up, and despite being a head shorter than the Pirates righty, forcefully showed him to first base, pointing his mitt down the line while the umpire tried to intervene. Whatever Kendall said to Karstens, he continued toward first base with a confused or fearful look on his face until the players from both benches arrived at the melee. It almost makes you think Smith didn’t mean to hit him.
The Pirates of course had very good reason to think the plunk was intentional — Karstens tried to brush Brewers pitcher Braden Looper back, and threw into left fielder Ryan Braun’s back after Braun hit a home run off of him, in a game in April (watch it here). But Kendall’s actions could suggest the pitch truly did get away from Smith. According to MLB.com’s Pirates writer, Kendall said after the game he gave Karstens options:
“[I] just told him to go to first base or go to the pitcher,” Kendall later said. “That’s baseball.”
That seems like the statement of a catcher protecting his pitcher: “Look, if you’re going to fight him, go fight him. Don’t stand around wasting our time.” When Karstens hit Braun, the All-Star left fielder knew how to take the shortest menacing step out of the batter’s box. Braun yapped about it then, but all on his way to first base. After the game, he uttered his famous “Tell Mr. Selig we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be interesting.”
The Pirates manager also expressed bewilderment as to why the Brewers would wait until late in the game when they were losing to settle any scores with Karstens. But who knows when Karstens will be up to bat again versus the Brewers? Reports after the game mentioned that while Smith was not playing with the team in April, he was briefed about the recent beef. Smith might have thrown at Karstens anyway — after all, the Pirates released him after spring training in 2008 and he spent a year in the wilderness.
Kendall also might have told Karstens that Smith’s intention was not to knock him out of the game, although that was the net effect. A five-run lead is hardly secure for a last place team facing the Brewers line-up. Braun played his role in this installment of the melodrama, knocking a 3-run homer to tighten the gap, after a long dormant streak. But it was a case of too little, too late, as Pirates reliever Jesse Chavez was able to get the final out, instead of Karstens, who was indeed tightening up in the area he was hit.
After Braun’s incendiary comments and play earlier in the season against the Pirates, many Brewers fans were clamoring for a baseball brawl to energize the team — and the Pirates were prime candidates, along with the Cardinals. But few would expect it would come in a rainy loss to Pittsburgh to snap a 17-0 streak against that opponent.
Hopefully, it will bring the fighting spirit back to the Brewers. Until then, we’ll have to carry on with the hilarious image of Prince Fielder holding back an irate Kendall.