It didn’t even take two games before tensions boiled over. By the end of the Cubs’ 9-0 victory Saturday against the Brewers at a chilly Wrigley Field, the prevailing topic was familiar: pitching inside.
In the eighth inning, Cubs reliever Keegan Thompson was ejected for hitting Andrew McCutchen. Both dugouts and bullpens emptied, but there were no punches thrown, though the teams formed a giant huddle between home plate and first base. Thompson, who had worked inside after starting the at-bat with a cutter that crossed the outside part of the plate, denied that he nailed McCutchen intentionally on the 2-1 pitch.
“Even though it’s a 9-0 ballgame, I’m still out there trying to work on things,” Thompson said. “I’m still working on my windup staying on a good rhythm. I still have trouble with that sometimes.”
McCutchen saw things differently. The 2013 National League MVP implied that if he was going to get hit, he’d rather not have to guess when it was coming.
“Everybody and their mom knew when I came up to bat that I was going to get hit,” McCutchen said. “[Cubs catcher Willson] Contreras didn’t even move his glove behind the plate when I got hit. He didn’t move it. We all knew it was coming. But it was a matter of how you do it. There was a better way to do it. I just don’t agree with the way it was done.”
Intentional or not, that moment didn’t come out of the blue.
Pitching inside and players getting hit has been a theme of recent Brewers-Cubs games. Since the start of the 2020 season, Brewers pitchers have hit the Cubs 27 times. Cubs hurlers have hit Brewers hitters on 26 occasions. Three Cubs and two Brewers were dinged Saturday.
Contreras, who was hit in the fourth inning by Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, has been plunked 10 times by Milwaukee pitchers since the beginning of 2020.
“Being hit that many times is not fun,” said Contreras, who has been hit 15 times by the Brewers during his career. “I know they’re not trying to, but if you don’t have the command to go in, just don’t go because you’re going to get somebody hurt. I’m not trying to get hurt by a hit-by-pitch.”
For a moment, it looked like one of Contreras’ teammates might have gotten injured.
In the seventh, Brewers reliever Trevor Gott’s slider hit Ian Happ on the left kneecap, and Happ crumpled to the ground. Luckily for the Cubs, Happ was able to walk off the field under his own power. X-rays came back negative.
Happ didn’t think the frequent plunkings by Milwaukee were intentional. Instead, he believes that pitching inside is part of the Brewers’ scouting report on the Cubs.
“I don’t think it’s on purpose,” Happ said. “Obviously, when it’s your teammates, if you’re going to come inside, you’ve got to throw strikes. You’ve got to be able to command it because it gets dangerous. But besides that, I don’t think it’s on purpose.”
This was only the second of 19 games between the teams, which will give them plenty of time to settle scores. It’s unclear whether the animosity between the teams is over, but Contreras hopes it ended.
“We’re not trying to get hit by a pitch, and they’re not trying to get hurt by a pitch, either,” Contreras said. “I respect all of the players. I think their coaching staff needs to realize that we’re human beings playing out there.”