CHICAGO — Glares over high-and-tight pitches and stares over hit batters turned into a familiar scene at Wrigley Field on Saturday. Once again, the Cubs and Brewers’ benches cleared and the division rivals engaged in an on-field shouting match over a sequence of hit batsmen.
The boiling point in Saturday’s 9-0 win for the Cubs arrived in the eighth inning, when Chicago righty Keegan Thompson hit veteran Andrew McCutchen on the left hip with a fastball. It was one of seven HBPs in the first two games of the series. McCutchen immediately barked at the young pitcher, as teammates from both sides spilled onto the field and congregated along the first-base line.
“A lot of balls getting away from guys the last couple of days,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “This game has a way sometimes of just kind of policing itself.”
Cubs veteran Jason Heyward sprinted from center field and was one of the first Chicago players to meet the crowd of Brewers. As the gathering grew in size, Heyward and Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain could be seen yelling at one another before the situation calmed. Thompson, who said a work-in-progress two-seamer “got away” from him and hit McCutchen, was glad to see Heyward helping to get the moment under control.
“It just goes to show that we’re a brotherhood right now and we have each other’s backs,” Thompson said. “That was really cool to see him in the front of the line, in front of me, when that happened.”
Heyward would not delve into the details of what words were exchanged, saying, “We handled it on the field beautifully. I think both teams are there for each other.”
Thompson was ejected from the game for hitting McCutchen, who was the fourth of five batters hit in the game. Nick Madrigal, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ were also hit by pitches by Brewers pitchers, and Christian Yelich was hit by rookie Ethan Roberts in the ninth inning. Happ’s HBP forced him to exit the game, but X-rays taken postgame came back negative for any structural damage.
Contreras was also hit by a pitch on Opening Day by reliever Jake Cousins, and the Cubs catcher was noticeably irritated as he made his way to first base. Contreras has been hit 10 times by Milwaukee pitching dating back to 2020.
“I think it’s actually more than that,” said Ross, noting that Contreras has been hit 15 times by Milwaukee pitchers in his career. “We like to count them all.”
Saturday’s events came after the Brewers and Cubs hit each other 23 times apiece across the 2020-21 seasons. Chicago pitchers hit Milwaukee batters 18 times in ’21, compared to 12 for the Brewers. A year earlier, it was Milwaukee’s arms (11) who had more HBPs than the Cubs (five) in their matchups.
“I understand that over the last couple of years, we have hit their guys a lot, especially one guy in particular,” Woodruff said, referring to Contreras, “but it’s just how we’re trying to pitch him. Sometimes balls get away, but we’re not trying to do it on purpose; it’s not intentional.”
Contreras echoed that, saying it was “probably the scouting report” but the execution needs to be there.
“I know they’re not trying to,” said the Cubs catcher. “But like I’ve said before, if you don’t have the command to go in, just don’t go, because you’re going to get somebody hurt.”
Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell: “I don’t think there was any intent on anybody’s hit by pitches today except for one.”
As far as Thompson’s pitch, the Brewers felt it could have happened earlier, if there was intent.
“I get they’re trying to send a message,” Woodruff said. “But you know, send it on that first pitch.”
That’s what drew McCutchen’s ire, he said. McCutchen was not upset he got hit — “Everybody and their mom knew when I came up to bat, I was going to get hit,” he said — but that Thompson’s first pitch was a cutter for a strike on the outside corner.
After that, Thompson came back with three straight fastballs. The third struck McCutchen.
“I don’t know if it is because I’m a little older and I was raised in a different era, but back when the guys knew it was coming, you got it right away. You didn’t wait around,” McCutchen said. “The biggest takeaway for me is you’re throwing a [cutter] away for a first-pitch strike, and what are you trying to do? You’re trying to make me guess, like, ‘Oh, you’re going to pitch to me?’ And then you’re going to try and hit me and get three chances? That’s a little much, man.”
It’s also a little dangerous, McCutchen argued. He said he suffered broken ribs in 2014 when the D-backs threw at him in retaliation for hitting Paul Goldschmidt. Then, like Saturday, the plate appearance began with off speed away to pull McCutchen over the plate before a fastball in the ribs.
“So, I do take that a little personal when you’re throwing offspeed pitches the first pitch and then you’re trying to hit somebody. To hurt him?” McCutchen said. “That’s exactly what you’re trying to do. You’re not just trying to hit him, you’re trying to hurt him. I think there’s some guys old enough over there who hopefully understand that and know that there’s a different way to do it.”
“Even though it’s a 9-0 ballgame, I’m still out there trying to work on things,” Thompson explained. “I’m still working on my windup, staying on a good rhythm. I still have trouble with that sometimes. A couple two-seams, and I’m working on a two-seam. Sometimes, it gets away.”
McCutchen got a chance to make his point to Thompson before heading to first base.
“I commend the umpires for letting me have that time to let them know how I felt about it,” McCutchen said. “If you would have hit me right away, I would have gone right to first base and not thought much about it. I knew it was coming. Cool. Wipe my hands clean. So I had to let him know, ‘Come on man, there’s a better way to do it.’”
Contreras walked with McCutchen up the line after the incident.
“I was just trying to make sure that he didn’t charge the mound or something,” Contreras said. “I know he’s a veteran guy. He’s a great player. We respect him.”
Does Contreras think things will end here?
“I can’t say it’s over,” he said. “I hope it ends right there, it dies right there. Because there’s a lot of talent on both sides, on both teams. We’re not trying to get hit by a pitch. They’re not trying to get hit or get hurt by a pitch either. I respect all of the players.”