Ron Cook: Reds throw first punch

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CINCINNATI

No one said a word, really. Then again, no one in the Pirates clubhouse had to say anything Friday night. They knew what had just happened on the Great American Ball Park lawn. The Cincinnati Reds landed the first punch in the three-game weekend series between the teams and it was a whopper. The Pirates hope to get a chance to throw their own punch tonight.

And we're not talking about responding to the Reds' 3-0 win.

The Pirates weren't thrilled that Reds closer Aroldis Chapman drilled Andrew McCutchen in the upper left forearm with a 101 mph fastball on the first pitch after getting Starling Marte to bounce out and striking out Travis Snider in the ninth inning. Chapman then struck out Garrett Jones on three pitches to end the game, giving the first-place Reds an astonishing 14th win in the past 15 games and their 21st in the past 24.

You, not to mention everyone who plays for the Reds or follows them, might argue there's no way that Chapman threw intentionally at McCutchen in that situation. I say it was a bush-league move. I suspect McCutchen felt the same way. He walked slowly to the dugout after Jones struck out, shaking his head the whole way, almost as if to say to the Reds, "Enjoy this one, boys. There's another game tomorrow. You had better stay loose in the box." The other Pirates waited in the dugout for McCutchen, staring out as the Reds congratulated one another near the pitching mound. Usually, they head right to the clubhouse after a loss.

"I don't want to answer any questions about the ninth inning. ... No comment," McCutchen said.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wasn't much more expansive, which said a lot.

"You don't like to see anyone get hit," he said. "The guy throws pretty hard. That's about it."

Actually, it's not.

McCutchen is the best player in the National League. The Pirates aren't going to just stand by and watch him get hit with a high inside fastball, especially by a guy who throws as hard as Chapman and, on this night, had good control.

Think hockey for a second. Say the Penguins' Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin gets blindsided by Philadelphia Flyers knucklehead Zac Rinaldo. Do you think the Penguins might retaliate?

I'm guessing the Pirates will do the same thing, if not tonight, then certainly at some point during the seven other games the teams will play before the season ends. If I'm the Reds' best player -- that's Jay Bruce these days with Joey Votto on the disabled list -- I really am hanging loose in the box.

It will be interesting to see how the umpires, led by crew chief Brian Gorman, handle this situation. They could warn both teams before the game tonight that if Pirates starter James McDonald or another Pirates pitcher hits one of the Reds with a pitch that the umpires determine was intentional, both that pitcher and Hurdle would be thrown out of the game immediately. That seems unlikely. The umpires also know baseball protocol, especially when a star player is involved. I'm guessing there will be no warning until after the Pirates get a chance to land their punch.

You think all of this is silly?

You might be right.

But it's baseball.

It has been that way in baseball for years and years.

Here's a twist to the story: If Chapman was trying to send a message to McCutchen and the Pirates, it might backfire. Even though McCutchen was the National League's player of the month in June and July and continues to hit at a ridiculous pace -- .373 -- his power production has dropped dramatically. He hasn't hit a home run since July 17, a span of 15 games and 51 at-bats. He has just one RBI since July 17 and hasn't driven in a run since July 22. It's amazing the Pirates have gone 10-5 during that stretch.

As McCutchen dressed after the game Friday night, he looked as if he couldn't wait to get back in the batter's box.

I won't be the least bit surprised if his power outage ends tonight.

That's just another reason that the game should be must-see TV.

homepage - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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