It took 13 innings before tempers flared between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals this season.
Nick Castellanos was at the center of it Saturday, which started when he was hit by Cardinals reliever Jake Woodford's 92-mph fastball in the ribs on the first pitch of his at-bat in the fourth inning.
Castellanos briefly stared at the mound and then asked catcher Yadier Molina if the pitch was an accident. Molina responded, "of course," which Castellanos accepted because of the respect he has for the nine-time All-Star catcher.
"That guy could have punched me in the face," Castellanos said of Molina. "I’d still ask him for a signed jersey. I’ve got nothing but respect for that cat, bro."
Castellanos took off his shin guard and elbow guard, picked up his bat, and then he took a few steps to pick up the baseball. He held it up while facing Woodford before tossing it back toward the Reds' dugout.
"I even asked the pitcher if he wanted the ball back," Castellanos said. "Sometimes pitchers, he’s coasting, I don’t know. I go to first and the only thing I’m thinking about is scoring.”
The Cardinals didn't like the gesture.
"You never offer the ball back to the pitcher," Adam Wainwright said. "That's tired. He should know better than that."
"A little disrespectful to Woody," Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said.
Castellanos, known for playing with an edge, advanced to third base on a single by Joey Votto, then scored on a wild pitch with a head-first slide to the plate. Woodford fell on top of him as he tried to tag him.
As Castellanos stood up, he stared at Woodford and shouted to celebrate the run.
"I saw the umpire said safe," Castellanos said. "I stood up and said, 'Let’s (expletive) go' and I walked off."
Molina brushed past an umpire and appeared to grab Castellanos near the back of his shoulders as Castellanos began to walk away, prompting the benches and bullpens to flood onto the field.
"I saw him celebrate a little bit," Reds manager David Bell said. "Then I saw him walk away and the next thing I knew, I saw a lot of people running on the field. I'm looking over towards the Cardinals' bench and I saw some of the coaches run out and then it was kind of everyone came out to protect their team."
There was a lot of shoving around the plate, but no punches appeared to be thrown. Castellanos was escorted near the Reds dugout by home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo and ejected for the first time in his career.
"After sliding into home, he re-engaged the pitcher in unnecessary fashion and that’s why he was ejected," crew chief Jim Reynolds told a pool reporter afterward.
As the relievers began returning toward their bullpens, there was a little more shoving in the outfield. Eugenio Suárez ran toward a Cardinals player. Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks was held back by several teammates after pointing at a player.
When the fracas continued in the outfield, Castellanos and Molina calmly chatted along the first-base line by themselves. Castellanos said he wanted to keep the conversation private, but "he said his piece and I listened."
“I’d say the more secure I’ve become as a man, and who I am, the more my raw emotions come out on the field," Castellanos said. "I’m not here to disrespect nobody or whatever, but I want to win. I’ve lost my whole career and I ain’t trying to start the season 0-2.”
During the Reds' 11-6 Opening Day loss to the Cardinals on Thursday, Castellanos hit a two-run homer and tossed his bat.
Did he think that was a reason why he was hit by a pitch?
“It’s possible, you know," Castellanos said. "I’m swinging good right now. I feel good. There’s two outs, there’s nobody on, 'hey, let’s try to shake them up a little bit, get him off his game.' I know how it works, it’s baseball. I’m not here complaining about it. The only thing I can do is do anything I can to score.”
Said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt: "I can 100% confidently tell you there was zero intent with Woody hitting Castellanos."
Castellanos was the only player ejected from the fracas. Why wasn't Molina ejected for making contact with an umpire and touching Castellanos?
"Because sometimes contact happens between players and umpires that is not aggressive," Reynolds said. "That is why he was not ejected."
After the game, Tucker Barnhart told Castellanos that he's always loved watching his competitiveness and how hard he plays. Bell thinks the edge that Castellanos plays with is a reason why he's had success throughout his career.
Castellanos was asked whether he thought of himself as a leader of the team.
“Look, I ain’t out here to talk about me," he said. "I don’t know if I’m a leader. I damn sure ain’t a follower. But that’s not for me to say, you know? It’s for those guys to say what I am.”
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