There was a baseball game played tonight at Nationals Park, but as you might guess, the Nats' 9-2 victory over the Cubs wasn't what Davey Johnson spent the vast majority of his postgame press conference discussing.
There were two bench-clearing incidents tonight, one in the bottom of the fifth inning and then another in the bottom of the sixth. The action all started when Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk began shouting at Nats third base coach Bo Porter, upset that the Nationals still had their foot on the pedal up 7-2 in the fifth inning. Porter then went over to the top step of the Cubs dugout and shouted back at Quirk before the benches cleared and order was eventually restored.
Apparently, what particularly upset Quirk was that Jayson Werth took a swing at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded, this after the Nats had stolen two bases earlier in the inning. Quirk felt the Nats should have been easing off in that situation, but that goes completely contrary to the mentality Johnson's team has had this year, especially after they blew a 9-0 lead against the Braves back in June.
"Their bench coach was yelling all kinds of things, 'Swinging 3-0, blah, blah, blah, blah,' really loud," Johnson said, "and it was totally uncalled for. Here we are in the fifth inning, we're in a pennant race. We're going to swing 3-0, we're going to do everything. We ain't stopping trying to score runs. Certainly a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach's frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we're going to keep competing."
Things then got a little ugly in the sixth when Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo threw a first-pitch fastball way inside to Bryce Harper, who took a couple steps towards Castillo and, uh, voiced his displeasure with the pitch. The benches cleared again, and a number of players got heated in the middle of the scrum.
Michael Gonzalez got involved with Cubs reliever Manny Corpas, and the two of them were ejected. Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger was also ejected after he pushed Michael Morse, an act which riled up Edwin Jackson, Sean Burnett and other Nats players.
"One guy came over the top and tried to hit somebody and that was Corpas and that created a ruckus and then the catcher pushed Michael Morse and Jackson was right there with him and shoved him," Johnson said. "That's again frustration from a team that's having a rough year. But I was proud of my guys for not really over reacting and taking a chance. We're in a pennant race. We've got to be model citizens.
"We don't start things but we're not going to completely back down from anything. But that was, you worry about somebody getting hurt or somebody getting suspended because of something they did. I had a conversation with several of the guys and (said), 'We just can't react. Even if somebody got smoked, we can't hit somebody.' They, one guy came over the top and tried to hit somebody, that didn't help things."
Morse was particularly upset about being shoved by Clevenger, and he wasn't alone.
"That's what really aggravated my guys and I don't blame 'em," Johnson said. "I'd have been the same way. I'd have probably popped him."
Johnson said he felt the umpires did a great job settling everything down and getting a hold on the situation, and reiterated that he understood why the Cubs were so frustrated, given the season they've had. But he also understands why Porter would react so emotionally to Quirk's verbal assault and insisted his team won't back down when they have a lead in the middle innings.
"It was getting real personal and it's (Porter) sticking up for me because it's really my decision on what we do on the field," Johnson said. "That's how we play. We don't quit trying to compete. My deal is basically (ease up) when we get to the closer with a seven-run lead. This stuff, play behind, not stealing, not keep trying to score runs, is, I don't agree with it. Anything can happen."
Johnson then provided the understatement of a long and adrenaline-filled ballgame.
"Interesting night," he said with a smile.