Brandon Phillips Sparks Benches-Clearing Brawl With Cardinals

CINCINNATI — From their
first-inning scrum to the final out, the St. Louis Cardinals sent a
message: Don't demean the defending champs. Not without expecting a
fight.

Yadier Molina jawed with Cincinnati
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips in the first inning Tuesday night,
sparking a benches-clearing fight, and the Cardinals followed their
catcher's lead to an 8-4 victory that moved St. Louis back into first
place in the NL Central.

When it was over, there were cuts and
scrapes and a sense that the Cardinals had gotten the better of it all.

"I know our guys," manager Tony La
Russa
said. "This is not the first time that we've been challenged. You
just go up and down our roster – we've got a bunch of guys that are very
tough characters. Like I say, there's times that you beat us, we're not
good enough. but you're never going to scare us and we're never going
to back down."

The fight brought out their best.

St. Louis has won the first two games
of the showdown series between teams locked in a tight race since May.
The Cardinals moved a season-high 14 games over .500 and a few
percentage points ahead of the Reds, who had led the division for the
last eight days.

The defending champions improved to
9-5 against the Reds this season, the only team in the NL Central that
has beaten them so thoroughly.

"They're in first place, but we showed
we've got good talent and we're going to compete," Molina said. "We did
today. We battled."

By contrast, the Reds responded to the
dustup with one of their worst games, committing three errors and
managing only six singles.

"I don't think it's a big mystery
that there was some tension before the game," third baseman Scott Rolen
said. "I was tired before my first at-bat. I won't get into specifics
about it. It was two teams defending their own people. It got ugly."

It all started with Phillips.

The second baseman opened the series
by saying he hates the Cardinals and calling them complainers. Reds
manager Dusty Baker wished he hadn't said it, and had a talk with
Phillips before the game on Tuesday.

Then, Phillips caught grief from the
Cardinals.

He dug in to lead off the bottom of
the first and tapped his bat on Molina's shin guard in a friendly
gesture. Molina was taken aback.

"The comment he made yesterday that
he's got no friends over here – then why you touch me?" Molina said.
"You are not my friend, so don't touch me. I mean, if we're no good for
you, you are not my friend."

The exchange turned angry. Phillips
took off his helmet, Molina removed his mask. Both benches and bullpens
emptied.

La Russa and Baker talked animatedly
in the middle of the crowd. Rolen – a former Cardinal – went after St.
Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter, who beat the Reds 7-3 in the series
opener on Monday night, trying to be a peacemaker. That, too, escalated.

Carpenter ended up pinned against the
backstop screen. Johnny Cueto also ended up against the screen, furiously
kicking away St. Louis players. Catcher Jason LaRue got kicked in the
head – La Russa said he had a slight concussion – and Carpenter had
several long, raw scrapes across his lower back and his right side.

"I turn around and I've got Cueto
kicking me in the back with his spikes," Carpenter said. "It's super
unprofessional. I don't know where he learned how to fight."

Cueto said he was trying to protect
himself.

"I was trying to break it up," Cueto
said, with catcher Ramon Hernandez translating. "The next thing I know,
15-20 people were around me. I was up against the net. When 15 people
are around you, you get scared. I had my back to the wall with my feet
up."

The altercation lasted seven minutes.
Play resumed and Phillips grounded out.

Molina hit a solo homer off Cueto
(11-3) in the second inning and later added a sacrifice fly. Matt
Holliday
broke the game open with a bases-loaded single in the seventh,
one of his four hits.

Rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia
(10-5) beat the Reds for the third time this season, giving up four runs
in 5 1-3 innings. Ryan Franklin retired Phillips, the only batter he
faced, on a routine grounder with two runners aboard, ending the game
for his 20th save in 22 tries.

"We didn't get key hits when we
needed them," said Phillips, who is 1-for-10 in the series. "It's all
about wins. We're in a race."

Notes
The last St. Louis rookie to
win 10 games was Jason Simontacchi in 2002. … St. Louis 2B Skip
Schumaker
left the game with leg cramps. It was 95 degrees at game time.
… La Russa said RHP Jeff Suppan had discomfort in his groin during a
between-starts workout on Monday and is being examined. … The Reds
started using RHP Homer Bailey out of the bullpen during his minor
league rehab stint. Bailey has been on the DL since May 24 with
inflammation in his pitching shoulder. … Holliday's bases-loaded
single ended Ondrusek's streak of scoreless innings at 22.

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