MILWAUKEE (AP) — In a Milwaukee Brewers clubhouse filled with oversized personalities, the first shot at the rival St. Louis Cardinals going into Game 1 of the NL championship series came from a surprising source: Starting pitcher Zack Greinke, whose bout with social anxiety disorder typically makes him one of the least likely players to pop off.
Speaking to reporters at Miller Park on Saturday, Greinke said some of his Brewers teammates don’t like Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter when he shouts at batters from the mound.
“They think his presence, his attitude out there sometimes is like a phony attitude,” Greinke said. “And then he yells at people. He just stares people down and stuff. And most pitchers just don’t do that. And when guys do, I guess some hitters get mad. Some hitters do it to pitchers. But when you do that some people will get mad.
“There’s other pitchers in the league that do it, but, I don’t know,” Greinke said, “a lot of guys on our team don’t like Carpenter.”
The NL Central champion Brewers send Greinke to the mound for the series opener against the wild-card Cardinals and lefty Jaime Garcia on Sunday. With a World Series trip on the line in a rematch of the 1982 Series, an already-simmering rivalry could reach a new level of intensity.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa vigorously defended Carpenter, saying he was “very disappointed” with Greinke. La Russa said any team in the league, including the Brewers, would be happy to have Carpenter on their staff.
“That’s a bad comment to make unless you know Chris Carpenter,” La Russa said. “Our attitude is we look at ourselves and we grade ourselves. And even if we don’t like what’s happening on the other side, we don’t make a – it’s not our business, unless somebody crosses the line. So I think the Brewers should take care of their players.”
While it was surprising to hear Greinke talk openly about his teammates’ disdain for Carpenter on the eve of one of the biggest weeks in Brewers history, the sentiment itself isn’t shocking.
Milwaukee’s rabble-rousing center fielder, Nyjer Morgan, got in a heated confrontation with Carpenter late in the regular season.
Not just foes on the field and in the division, the Cardinals and Brewers are a study in contrasting approaches to the game. The Cardinals aren’t prone to over-the-top celebrations, and don’t particularly like it when the Brewers do so.
“Sometimes, that exuberance can spill over into a realm that I don’t feel is appropriate,” Lance Berkman said of the Brewers. “But I’m not the czar of baseball, either. So that’s all I can say about it.”
Brewers players make their “beast mode” celebration gesture after any significant play, talking big and – so far, at least – backing it up. Milwaukee finished six games ahead of the second-place Cardinals this year.
“They’re more of an old-school (team) and we’re kind of a new school,” Corey Hart said. “We’re exciting and high energy. To be honest about it, that’s why we probably clash a little bit because of the differences. But I feel we both respect each other. They respect us and we respect them. You can’t let the differences get in the way of the fact that both teams are pretty good.”
Carpenter spoke to reporters before Greinke made his comments, and downplayed any suggestion that the two teams don’t like each other.
“I don’t think that’s a fact,” Carpenter said. “I think we have great respect for them. I hope they have the same for us.”
But there have been several flashpoints between the Brewers and Cardinals throughout the season, and Carpenter was squarely in the middle of perhaps the most intense moment.
In a Sept. 7 game at St. Louis, Morgan struck out and he and Carpenter swore at each other. Albert Pujols got in the middle as the benches emptied.
No punches were thrown, but Morgan later posted messages on his Twitter account saying he hoped “those crying birds” would enjoy watching the Brewers in the playoffs. He referred to Pujols as “Alberta.”
Asked if he regretted the Twitter insults, Morgan acknowledged that he – and his self-created alter ego, “Tony Plush” – probably should have kept his comments to himself.
“Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have said it,” Morgan said. “But it is what it is.”
Morgan said he didn’t think any “foolishness” would spill over into the NLCS with so much on the line – and figured the story lines between the two teams would simply drum up more interest in the series.
“Honestly, it’s good for baseball,” Morgan said. “Going out there, all the stuff that’s going on, people are going to view the game a little bit more. Thanks to Plush, the TV ratings are going to go up a little higher.”
Pujols didn’t want to revisit the dustup.
“Can you guys talk about the game, about the series, and not bring up stuff that happened two months ago?” he said. “Come on.”
But that wasn’t the only flare-up between the Brewers and Cardinals this season.
During an early August series in Milwaukee, the Cardinals complained about electronic signs in Miller Park, saying they were distracting to players. Pujols and Ryan Braun both were hit by pitches. La Russa also complained about heckling, saying one fan yelled that he hoped the manager got shingles again.
“They play hard,” La Russa said Saturday, asked about the tension between the teams. “We play hard. We’re both interested in the outcome and sometimes sparks fly.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he isn’t concerned about his players letting their emotions get the best of them.
“We have a good team to play,” Roenicke said. “We know that. We just have to make sure we’re ready to do what we do best.”
And Berkman, who spent most of his career in Houston, acknowledged that even he had a negative perception of the Cardinals before he played for them.
“I looked at the Cardinals as the Darth Vader of the NL Central, a foe to be vanquished,” Berkman said. “They used to irritate me. Part of that is because when you’re the team to beat, you’re going to engender some of that animosity from the opposition.”
Copyright Associated Press