|Nyjer Morgan brings energy to the Brewers -- maybe 'too much energy,' says Albert Pujols. (Getty Images)|
MILWAUKEE -- You think something squirrely was going on between the Cardinals and the Phillies? Just wait. When the Cardinals and Brewers take their act national in the National League Championship Series, it's going to be a blood sport.
Think Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield's ear.
Hatred. Animosity. Vitriol. Anthipathy. Take all of 'em, then multiply by 10, and that's only a fraction of the loathing between these two clubs.
And that's before Nyjer Morgan even gets dressed for the day.
"The most hated man in the state of Wisconsin, by far, is Tony La Russa," Drew Olson, a local sports talk radio personality and former baseball writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, says. "Especially since Brett Favre retired."
|NLCS: Cardinals at Brewers|
The Brewers, including their Division Series dusting of Arizona, have rolled up a 60-27 record in Miller Park this year. No other major-league club has been tougher to beat at home. Leave it to La Russa to look for an avenue to puncture that.
During a series here in August, the august manager of the Redbirds accused the Brewers of stealing signs. Which was outrageous enough on its own. But then he started in on Miller Park, accusing the Brewers of changing the brightness on their L.E.D.-ribbon scoreboard, depending upon who was at the plate.
"We get calls, emails ... there's no villain in this state now," Olson says. "For some reason, people don't hate [Bears coach] Lovie Smith or [Bears quarterback] Jay Cutler. But they hate Tony La Russa.
"A lot of people think he's the devil. Just without a black hat."
The accusations in Miller Park two months ago were just a junior varsity warm-up act, though, for what happened in St. Louis a month later.
Morgan, who has made the Cardinals see red going back to his days with the Nationals last year, took the opportunity after striking out against Chris Carpenter to scream at him from the plate and toss a wad of chewing tobacco toward the mound.
That brought Albert Pujols running in from first to defend his pitcher, and both benches emptied.
The Cardinals accused Morgan of screaming and cursing while on the bases earlier in the series.
"When you strike out like that and try to throw the chew to the mound at our pitcher and yell the whole night, come on," Pujols told reporters after that game. "You need to be more professional than that.
"I actually like that guy. I don't mind having a guy like that on my team. He brings a lot of energy to a ballclub and you want to have a guy like that, but sometimes I think he goes overboard a little bit and tries to use too much energy.
"You wonder why he's been on three different ballclubs in the last year and a half, you know?"
But while Pujols was talking, Morgan was tweeting. Not more than 15 minutes after the game came this grenade lobbed via Twitter, aimed squarely at Pujols:
"Alberta couldn't see Plush if she had her gloves on!!! Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!!"
To Morgan's long list of alter egos -- Tony Plush, Tony Hush, Tony Clutch, Tony Tombstone -- add another: The Alberta Clipper.
Saturday, the Cardinals mostly refused to stir that pot. Pujols predictably attempted to lay responsibility for the ugliness on the media for blowing it up. But Morgan wrote his own words. Nobody in the media called Pujols "Alberta."
"I don't think we need to talk about that," Pujols said Saturday when asked directly about Tony Tweeter. "This is the postseason, it's a new season."
Morgan said he may give Pujols a pat on the butt when he reaches first base and ask him how it's going. He also said he may not.
"What I said was probably not too cool to the world, but I didn't say anything about how the man plays the game," Morgan said Saturday. "He's still a heck of a player. ...
"I'm not going to hide behind what I said. What I said is what I said. At the time, the moment was heated. Of course, yeah, maybe I shouldn't have said it."
St. Louis' issues with Morgan go back to last year, when he was with the Nationals and bowled over St. Louis catcher Bryan Anderson in a game despite there being no play at the plate. Then the Cardinals and Nationals engaged in a bench-clearing brawl this spring before the Nats dealt Morgan to Milwaukee, and his Washington teammates had to forcibly restrain Morgan during the clash.
And a week after La Russa's evaluation of the Miller Park scoreboard, when the teams played again in St. Louis, plate umpire Gerry Davis made the unusual move of pausing the game to deliver a warning to Morgan for excessive hollering at Carpenter from the dugout.
Carpenter and Pujols accused Morgan of yelling at the pitcher from the bases, too.
And this was a couple of weeks before Morgan, or Tony Plush, or whichever one of them did it, heaved the wad of chew at Carpenter.
La Russa at the time said Morgan needs to "get a clue." Saturday, he said, "I think there's a line you shouldn't cross." Then he acknowledged that he crossed that line in Game 2 of the Division Series in Philadelphia when he ripped home plate umpire Jerry Meals mid-game on national TV.
Carpenter? He noted after avoiding the chaw that "there's a certain way to compete and a certain way not to compete."
That's another fine line -- so fine the Brewers take that same sentence as reason enough to become livid with Carpenter.
"I think no one really likes Carpenter," Zack Greinke, Milwaukee's Game 1 starter, said Saturday.
What do the Brewers have against him?
"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 most pitchers don't do that."
Moments after La Russa called Greinke a "high-quality starter" and "very competitive" Saturday, he learned of Greinke calling Carpenter phony.
"Very disappointed that Greinke would say that," La Russa said, adding, "That's a bad comment to make unless you know Chris Carpenter. ... I think the Brewers should take care of their players and their comments and not be concerned about other players and comments."
While Morgan is to the extreme, the Brewers are frat-house, young, fun, devil-may-care. The Cardinals are buttoned-down business class, straight-laced, heart-attack serious.
The two mix worse than Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt.
But now, with a World Series trip on the line?
Baseball may need to replace the umpiring crew with a SWAT team for this NLCS.
And forget Fredbird and Bernie Brewer. Mascots? Pfffff. Don't be surprised to see Ring Girls atop the dugouts holding cards introducing each new inning.
This is going to be fun. This is going to be emotional.
"You know how in wrestling, there's always a heel, someone who is supposed to be hated?" Olson says. "It's almost like that in Wisconsin with La Russa.
"Just wait until he's introduced Sunday."
Likewise, just wait until Morgan is introduced before Game 3 on Tuesday in St. Louis.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it, looking forward to going there, because it's going to be pretty boo-y, too," Morgan said. "From a team view, we're all looking forward to going out there. Nobody's worried about what I said on Twitter. I know what I said on Twitter."
This is going to be the Thrilla in Manila, baseball-style. Throwdown in Brew Town. Miller vs. Budweiser, La Russa vs. Tony Chewbacca, Brewers and Cardinals reprising their 1982 World Series clash.
Like Adele sings, "I'm gonna make your head burn" ... and that's the least of what these two clubs want to do to each other.
The teams split the 18 games they played this season. St. Louis trailed Milwaukee by 8½ games in early September when the Morgan-Cardinals feud boiled over.
Morgan fired off another tweet that day just before insulting Pujols: "Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhh!!!"
You bet they will, and from a most unlikely and unexpected perch: from the dugout across the field in the NLCS.
"But I didn't say they wouldn't make the playoffs," Morgan said Saturday, laughing. "At that time, I think everybody thought they weren't going to do it.
"Once again, I'm glad I was able to fuel their fire. They played a heck of a September and now this is going to be great for baseball."
Lace 'em up.