A day after the Astros advanced with a pitching performance as boring as it was dominating, the Cubs and Pirates figured out how to up the entertainment value even as Jake Arrieta shut Pittsburgh down: a fight!
Everyone loves a good baseball fight, even if Sean Rodriguez was the only one throwing actual punches, and a Gatorade cooler was the only thing being punched. A fight in the playoffs is even more exciting—hockey kicked off last night, and even they don’t fight in the postseason. But Pirates reliever Tony Watson knew what he was doing when he plunked Arrieta with a 93 MPH fastball in the rear: “I think they were coming out no matter what.”
Watson didn’t want to hurt Arrieta—“the butt’s perfect,” he said—but he did want to hit him. And as with all baseball fights, the motivations were varied and occasionally dumb. Pittsburgh was frustrated that they couldn’t do a thing with Arrieta, frustrated that 98 wins wasn’t even enough to make it a week into October, and frustrated that Arrieta had hit two Pirates earlier in the game. Those hit basemen were obviously unintentional; no pitcher is going to willingly put men on when he’s hurling a shutout in a win-or-go-home game. Afterword, some Pirates expressed their displeasure with how Arrieta pitches up and in, but that’s silly: he wouldn’t be nearly as effective if he didn’t.
There was perhaps one more motive behind the Pirates’ Parthian shot—the hard slide from Chicago’s Chris Coghlan that took out Jung Ho Kang last month and ended the talented infielder’s season. Kang, in a wheelchair, was introduced to the crowd before the game, and the Pirates haven’t forgotten what happened. When asked if Kang’s injury had anything to do with hitting Arrieta, Watson replied cryptically, “Obviously, some things have happened.”
Whatever the reasons, benches cleared, and there was pushing, shoving, and a whole lot of “hold me back bro”-ing. And then there was Sean Rodriguez, who had been removed for a pinch-hitter in his very first plate appearance.
Rodriguez said he was mad that he was choked by catcher David Ross:
“When somebody grabs you by the neck, do you really need an invitation at that point?” Rodriguez said. “Do you need any buildup?”
Ross acknowledged that he got his hand on Rodriguez’s throat, but denied it was intentional.
“I was trying to stop him as he charged me,” Ross said, “and he bent down, and my hand went on his throat.
“It was just one hand. It was a total accident. I get it [how he feels]. But then he swung on me. He may have seen it another way.”
Rodriguez was the only player ejected, beat up an inanimate jug, and then Arrieta stole second base, which is probably going to lead to more beanballs next season. Which is fine: a good Cubs-Pirates rivalry would be a welcome thing.