McCoy: Lots of singles and an on-field skirmish -- Reds top Cardinals, 9-6

Only two games into the 2021 season and on a sunny Saturday afternoon the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals re-affirmed their attitudes: “We don’t like you and you don’t like us.”

And for the Reds and outfielder Nick Castellanos, it was stand-your-ground because we aren’t going to be pushed around, especially on our home turf.

A 10-minute on-the-field skirmish during which every player on both sides burst to a battleground after Castellanos and Cardinals pitcher Jake Woodford became entangled at home plate.

When the game ended, the new-look “singles are good” Reds approach to compiling runs was rewarded with a 9-6 victory. After the Cardinals scored six runs in the first inning on Opening Day, the Reds routed St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright with a six-spot in the third inning.

After a walk and Tucker Barnhart’s home run ignited the inning, the Reds followed up with six singles for four more runs.

The animosity began on Opening Day when Castellanos homered and flipped his bat and did a skip-to-my-loo dance toward first base.

When he came to bat in the fourth, Woodford buried the baseball into Castellanos’ rib cage. Castellanos picked up the baseball, held it aloft, and asked if Woodford if he wanted the ball back.

Later in the inning Castellanos was on third when Woodford unleashed a high fastball that ricocheted off catcher Yadier Molina’s glove. Castellanos slid home hear-first and Woodford landed on his back.

Castellanos said something, then turned toward the dugout. Woodford followed him and soon there was baseball’s on-field GMA, general milling around.

“I dove, I kind of felt him land on my side, I saw the umpire say safe, I stood up and said, ‘Let’s (expletive) go,’ and I walked away,” said Castellanos, who was the only player ejected.

Asked about getting hit by the pitch, he said, “I mean, look. I wore a 93 in the ribs. That don’t exactly feel good. I asked Yadi (Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina) if it was an accident and he said, ‘Of course it was an accident.’ All right, Yadi’s a boss. So, all right, I give him the benefit of the doubt. All right it is an accident. I just took my stuff off and even asked the pitcher if he wanted the ball back.”

Cardinals pitcher Wainwright, watching from the dugout, called the ball offering, “Tired.” So does Castellanos feel that was disrespectful?

“I don’t know how the pitcher took it,” he said. “I just saw the ball and offered it to him. If Wainwright says it’s tired, all right, man. He has the right to say that. I have nothing but respect for that dude. He’s a Hall of Famer.”

After the sides were separated, another skirmish broke out right field, but Castellanos and Molina were face-to-face, nose-to-nose and chin-to-chin. And Molina was doing the talking and Castellanos the listening.

“What was said is between me and Yadi,” he said. “That guy could punch me in the face and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey, y’know. I have nothing but respect for that cat, because he’s a real one. He said his piece and I listened. That’s it.”

Castellanos said after he reached first base, “All I thought about was scoring.”

Did he think he was hit because of his extra-curricular hijinx after his Opening Day home run.

“It’s possible,” he said. “I’m swinging right now, I feel good, there’s two outs and nobody on. …'Hey, let’s try to shake ‘em up a little bit. Get him off his game.’ I know how it works, man. It’s baseball and I’m not out here complaining about it.”

What is becoming clear is that Castellanos is a no-nonsense, get down in the dirt and do whatever he can to help his team win.

“The more secure I’ve become as a man and who I am, the more my raw emotions come out on the field,” he said. “I’m not out here to disrespect nobody or whatever. . .BUT I WANT TO WIN. I’ve lost my whole career and I ain’t trying to start this season 0-and-2.”

It looks as if Castellanos is emerging as a leader, a follow-me type guy, a guy who plays with a log-sized chip on his shoulder. If so, he won’t discuss it.

“I’m not out here to talk about me,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m a leader, but I’m damn-sure not a follower. That’s not for me to say. It’s for those guys (teammates) to say what I am.”

So let manager David Bell say who Castellanos is.

“Nick Castellanos has been an outstanding player in this league for a long time,” said Bell. “It is really important to play with an edge, for sure. Nick does that and that’s part of why he is so good. We encourage guys to play hard and to be themselves. Respect is very important to us and you have to have an edge.

The Cardinals think Castellanos went over the edge, but to the Reds he just has the necessary sharp edge.

The game?

The Reds had 11 hits … one double, two home runs (Barnhart, Aristides Aquino) and, the big event, eight singles. Even though they lost on Opening Day, they had six runs and double-digit hits.

“We learned a lot about ourselves offensively last year,” said Bell. “We worked all winter and all spring to make the necessary adjustments.”

They’re calling it The Line Drive Approach. No more emphasis on launch angle. Exit velocity? Yes. Launch angle? No.

“We want our guys to be who they are, maximize what they are,” said Bell. “Try to keep it simple and hit the ball hard. The pitching we face is tough and you can’t try to do too much. If our team was guilty of anything last year, sometimes we tried to do a little too much.

“Now we want simplicity, just try to hit the ball hard,” he said. “Singles are good, too.”

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