Tensions between the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies didn’t appear to be strained when the two clubs met last week in Chicago. Fast forward five days and a change of scenery, and that dynamic appeared to change. In the second series played between the two teams in under a week, the games started to grow chippy. This came to a head on Wednesday when four batters were hit during a Cubs 10-1 blowout victory.
Colorado won two of three games in the series. The result of Wednesday’s game and the series will be remembered by the tension that arose between the two teams.
It is difficult to pinpoint the precise moment when tempers began to flare. A lot goes on outside of the eye of media and fans. However, the fact that Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was hit by pitches three times in the first two games of the series (both Cubs losses) is a logical choice.
None of those pitches appeared to be outwardly malicious, but, evidently, it left a bad taste in the mouth of Cubs players.
Bryant sat out Wednesday’s game due to a combination of factors including an unrelated minor ankle injury.
In baseball, batters getting plunked by pitchers has always been a part of the game. What makes those inevitable plays polarizing is differentiating the fine line between aggressive inside pitching and intentional throwing at a batter.
On Wednesday, that line was blurred. The Rockies fell behind 5-0 after a nightmarish five-run second inning by the Cubs.
The momentum was clearly in favor of Chicago, but it didn’t feel like the Rockies were out of the game, and for good reason. The Rockies have scored five or more runs in 26 of their last 36 contests. On top of that, at home, the Rockies have had a knack for comebacks and late game heroics.
All hope of a comeback vanished with one pitch. Cubs pitcher Cole Hamels threw a wild 90.5 MPH fastball that struck Rockies All-Star third baseman and team leader Nolan Arenado in his left forearm.
The crowd yelled in disapproval, and the usually stoic Arenado was clearly riled up and in pain. He could be seen jawing at Hamels and the Cubs dugout as he slowly made his way to first base, while Umpire Roberto Ortiz stood between them, trying to defuse the situation.
“It's just baseball,” Arenado said. “I just thought it was a little high...if you were here for the series, you saw what was going on.”
Arenado wasn’t surprised at what unfolded.
“I mean we hit Brian twice yesterday,” Arenado said. “I kind of had a feeling it was it was gonna happen.”
A short injury delay ensued, in which Arenado had his left forearm wrapped. It was later announced to be a forearm contusion by the Rockies.
He was replaced in the top of the fifth inning for Ryan McMahon. Despite the injury, Arenado was able to record two of the Rockies three outs during the top of the fourth inning. Regardless, it was clear that the game was done.
“It was throbbing and it got super tight,” Arenado said. “Sometimes when things get super tight quickly it may be a break. It just was getting tight and the game was getting ugly so they (decided to) just get me out of there and get rested and hopefully feel better tomorrow.”
The X-rays came back negative, and it appears to be a bruise that won’t sideline the star play-maker for long. Arenado said that he plans to play in Thursday's game against the San Diego Padres but will have to see how he feels.
It is impossible to know definitively if the play was intentional, but Rockies manager Bud Black was understandably upset.
“It didn’t look right to me,” Black said.
The Rockies would muster only three more hits the remainder of the game and fell 10-1, the second largest home losing deficit of the season to a 14-4 loss to the Giants on May 7. And, Thursday arguably the most disappointing loss for the Rockies at Coors Field since a 12-2 loss to the Nationals in Game 161 last year, which cost the Rockies the NL West title.
However, it was the continued aggressive pitching from both teams that created controversy and tension for the rest of the game.
Rockies reliever Brian Shaw hit Hamels on the foot in the seventh inning.
Phillip Diehl, appearing in only his second MLB contest proceeded to hit Anthony Rizzo, drawing warnings from the umpire Roberto Ortiz to both dugouts.
Rizzo then stole second, despite the Cubs being up eight runs.
Four pitches later, Javier Baez blasted a 460 ft bomb and appeared to stare down Diehl as he rounded the basis. No words were uttered, but the message was clear.
During the bottom of the ninth inning Rockies catcher Tony Wolters was pegged, by Cubs relief pitcher Brad Brach despite the umpire’s warnings, and with the game well out of hand (10-0 at the time). Nobody was ejected by the incident, but it still earned a reaction from Black who had a long talk with officials about the play.
Wolters agreed with his teammates and coaches by attributing aggressive pitching as the reason players on both teams were hit by pitches during the tense series.
As this all unfolded, both benches outwardly kept their composure, and to the dismay of some of the more fight oriented fans, no bench-clearing brawls took place.
Players and coaches alike were measured in their responses following the game, leaving a cloud of ambiguity over the situation. Much of what happened is up to interpretation.
Black was understandably curt following the disappointing loss. He admitted to taking exception to the pitches that hit Arenado and Wolters, but refused to outwardly accuse the Cubs of trying to hit players.
“Both teams pitched inside aggressively,” Black said.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, who is well versed in dealing with the media, didn’t outwardly allude to anything intentional either. Like Black, he felt that getting hit by pitches is part of the game.
“I'm not going to accuse their guys of hitting KB (Kris Bryant)," Maddon said. "Everybody has the right to pitch inside. If you're going to pitch successfully in this ballpark you have to pitch inside, and some guys are going to get hit.”
Unfortunately for fight fans, the teams are not scheduled to face each other again this season, so the unresolved tension between the teams will likely remain unresolved. There is, however, always a possibility of the two teams facing each other in the postseason like they did last year.
Arenado believes he knows how that would play out.
“If we play them again, it would be pretty spicy series,” Arenado said.