The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals will renew their hostilities this evening in St. Louis. The three game weekend set is the first meeting between the two clubs since last season when tensions between the two clubs erupted in a brawl that possibly ended Jason LaRue’s career and made Brandon Phillips the chief target of Cardinal fan boos outside of anyone wearing a Cubs jersey.
Rivalries in sports are part of the allure. Ohio St./Michigan, Duke/North Carolina, you name it. The stakes are raised when two teams who genuinely don’t like each other square off on the field. And unlike other sports where the rivals only meet once or twice, baseball feuds (see Yankees/Red Sox) are of the Hatfield/McCoy variety. They are ongoing and each meeting has the potential to add more fuel to an already blazing fire.
It’s been awhile for the Reds to be anyone’s rival. In order for a good rivalry to exist, both teams need to be battling for something meaningful. The Reds and Pirates had a good rivalry going for over 20 years as they squared off several times for the right to go to the World Series. As both teams sank into mediocrity and worse, the rivalry died as well.
Enter Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty. Castellini, a former minority shareholder with the Cardinals, purchased the Reds and then brought on former Cardinals GM Jocketty to be the architect of the club. The results have been stellar, and now the former St. Louis stalwarts have become the chief obstacle to Tony LaRussa’s pennant pursuits. And while these dynamics have set the stage, last year’s dustup with Brandon Phillips calling the Cardinals a “bunch of p******s” was the spark that ignited it. The next night after Phillips comments, the brawl erupted and it’s been “on” ever since.
The Cardinals swept out the Reds head to head at the end of last season, but imploded against the rest of the division, allowing the Reds to gain the division title. This year, both teams have streaked and stumbled to a .500 record thus far. While pennants aren’t won in April, they certainly can be lost. Both teams view this early series as important to their overall success and a time to set the tone for 2011.
The rest of the baseball world is taking note as well. In a position usually reserved for the Red Sox and Yankees, two of the three tilts this weekend will be nationally broadcast. FOX sports will show Saturday’s showdown while Sunday’s game will be covered by ESPN.
Of course, both teams are downplaying the importance of this early meeting, focusing on the entirety of 162 games and waiting til crunch time in August and September to engage in more heated rhetoric. Except for Brandon Phillips. Perhaps being more honest than his teammates, Phillips relishes the confrontation with the Cards:
“Of course they’re going to boo me. I love it,” Phillips said. “They can boo me all they want. It’s not going to make me not get any hits or anything like that.”
It’s only April, but this weekend promises some spirited early season baseball between two new rivals. Look for some playoff-caliber play from both squads as they try to take the early advantage in the NL Central.