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Tuesday, Bloody Tuesday

WARNING: The following is a column about the physical altercation that occurred at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 10th, 2010 between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. Some events and opinions discussed herein may be unsuitable for children, the elderly, Cubs fans, or anyone else who may have a weak stomach or delicate sensibilities. The following may or may not involve thematic elements that you may or may not have been force-fed by every sports media outlet for the last three days. If, like most sports fans, you have been previously inundated with all available images, accounts, and conjecture related to said event and are altogether weary of all such coverage, by all means cease and desist reading and direct your attention elsewhere. If, however, (like me) you suffer from an insatiable appetite for over-consumption of such matters, by all means ignore Brandon Phillips' shin-guard tap, stop being a little bitch, and continue…

Yep, that's right, I'm here to talk about the brawl. I know, I know, it's all baseball people have been talking about for the last two days or so. Pretty much every sports media source has provided its take on the comments of Brandon Phillips, the extent to which those comments are to blame for the on-field fracas, and the degree to which the combination of the two affected the Reds' level of play for the last two games of the series. In short, I'm not exactly charting new territory here. I get that. For the record, I think it's obvious that Brandon's comments were mostly responsible for the brawl; if he hadn't made them we wouldn't be talking about this. Also, I would go ahead and disagree with anyone who thinks Brandon's bulletin board comments somehow charged up the Cardinals and gave them the necessary impetus to crush the Reds in the series. As John Kruk stated on Sportscenter: "Baseball players don't read the bulletin board!" More on that later though.

For now, I'd like to state up front that those are not the issues I am most concerned with, and they will not be my focus here. I also won't spend time debating the suspensions that were handed down by the MLB. Fair or unfair, we all knew something had to come out of that melee beyond Dusty and LaRussa sitting the game out, so I can't say I am surprised. I don't blame Johnny Cueto for flailing his legs like a scared kitten, just as I don't blame Jason Larue for being a bit miffed that he took some metal spikes to the dome. (Note: I DO, actually, blame Chris Carpenter. Not for fueling a fire that seemed to be on its way out, or for loudly voicing his derision in Dusty's direction. More simply, I blame Carpenter for being the bitchiest of all the little bitches. I just plain don't like that guy. If there were a Head Little Bitch, it'd be him.)

My takeaway from the whole event is actually pretty simple: I think it was GREAT. I think Brandon Phillips' comments were pointed, passion-infused, and full of a fire the Reds have long been missing. Similarly, the brawl itself showed a side of the Reds that for years was buried under the hulking apathy of the Adam Dunns, Ken Griffey Jr.s, and Aaron Harangs of the world. To put it plainly, "Red Tuesday" could quite possibly be a seminal moment in the reinvention of a once proud and successful franchise. Now, there are many Reds fans out there that would be quick to disagree with me. I understand that. It's the obvious thought progression. The facts up to this point actually support that view. Follow me here…

- Brandon Phillips calls the Cardinals "little bitches" before Game 1.

- The Reds lose Game 1, 7-3.

- Brandon Phillips cordially taps Yadier Molina on the shin-guard before his first at-bat in Game 2.

- Molina tries to remember the more vulgar English words for "I don't care for you very much."

- Phillips doesn't back down (and takes off his helmet, a protective device which he apparently thought would hinder him in the fight).

- Dusty tries not to fracture a hip.

- Rolen pushes 17 guys backward by himself.

- Carpenter acts like a little bitch.

- Cueto lands a few well-aimed cleat shots on unsuspecting victims.

- Jeff Suppan attempts to crawl out of the scrum on his hands and knees as if escaping from his son's Moonbounce.

- The Reds go on to F the rest of the series sideways.

All signs (and I count 12 of them) point to Phillips as the instigator for what ended up being a series-killing and (if you talk to some of the more doom-and-gloom Reds fans out there) potentially season-ending ordeal. From what I can tell from the message boards, many of the Reds faithful are drinking that Kool-Aid right now, and you can count Gunz (my stats slave) as one of them:

"Making that kind of comment public motivates the Cardinals without motivating the Reds. I'm not saying he shouldn't think that or that he shouldn't say that in the locker room. But saying to the media is a no-win for the Reds. Why even do it?"

I'll tell you why.

First of all, this isn't football. You don't have defensive coordinators making impassioned speeches before every game, posting opponents' comments all over the locker room and sending 80-something gladiators out of the tunnel in a frothy fury. No one is hearing Brandon Phillips' comments and putting a bounty on him. It's not like Hines Ward is postin' up at second base, waiting to take a cheap shot. This is BASEBALL, the most individual team sport there is. There is no contact. Players are in more danger of breaking their hand on a water cooler or dropping a weight on their toe than they are of getting hurt on the field. Plus, you can't tell me that hearing something like that from Phillips would really have so much of an effect on a baseball team's "chemistry" that they would be empowered to go on to crush a team for three games. That's bologna. The reality no one wants to admit is that the Cardinals have a better 1-2-3 at the top of their rotation than the Reds, and it showed. Plain and simple. It just so happens that Phillips picked a really tough series to precede with his biotch rant.

Now, just because Phillips' comments (or the brawl itself) weren't the decisive motivating force behind the Cardinals' sweep, doesn't mean that these events lack the potential to motivate. The reason I stand behind Brandon 100% and think the brawl actually will work as a positive for the Reds is because of what I envision it doing for the organization as a whole. We all know the Reds have spent the last 15 years getting curb stomped by the heavyweights of the National League Central. Even in 1999, it was as if the Reds sniffed the one-game playoff and chose to run away and hide. By all accounts, Cincinnati fans have LONG been subject to a dormant, flat-lining baseball team, one that finally (FINALLY!) is showing signs of resuscitation. I don't know about you, but for the first time in the better part of a decade, the Reds organization has fielded a team that I actually believe in. And I would submit that the events of the last several days indicate that, more encouraging still, these guys finally have begun to believe in themselves.

If possible, put aside for a moment that the Reds were swept in the series. Put aside that Phillips' plate appearances pretty much all resulted in weak groundouts and clueless K's. What we saw Tuesday was a full-fledged RIVALRY blossoming before our eyes. When is the last time you could confidently state that the Reds had a rivalry worth tuning into? The Cardinals and Cubs are natural rivals, so until recently, the Reds played second fiddle. Saying the Cards have been our rival makes us sound like Michigan State preparing for the Michigan game. Go sit at the kids' table, Spartans. And the Astros, Brewers, and Pirates? Psssh…please. WHO CARES? The closest thing we've had to a rival has been Roy Oswalt, and it can hardly be a rivalry if one side wins 99% of the time. (Just ask Jim Tressel about that.)

Yet, you can almost feel the tide turning. Fans lucky enough to be behind home plate Tuesday night could literally FEEL it. Just as the swarming mass of players shifted violently from home plate into the backstop netting Tuesday night, fans everywhere watched as the balance of power and passion in the NL Central tipped Cincinnati's way. True, the series was lost. All three games were frittered away, and the Cardinals regained the lead. However, division leads come and go; they have all season, and will continue to through the end of September. What is more important is that Cincinnati fans now have something to stand behind, and that's more than we could have said a short time ago. All season, I have been of the belief that this is a different Reds team; most fans have. But, this series proves it. Scott Rolen taking on the whole Cardinals team (even though some are his friends) proves it. Jonny Gomes doing his best Bill Compton impression and appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the fray proves it. Joey Votto hating the Cubs at the All-Star Game proves it. And, to Gunz' utter dismay, Brandon Phillips poppin' off (in a way that only Brandon Phillips can) proves it. Nothing revives a franchise like a winning record and a passionate fan base, and the two often go hand in hand. Today, the Reds sit one game back in the division, 13 games over .500. And, for the first time in what has seemed like ages, passion has returned to the banks of the Ohio River. Most people will look back at this St. Louis series and see three losses. Me? I see one big win.

Reed Domer-Shank 8-13-2010

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