Phillips returns to less-than-warm welcome

Phillips returns to less-than-warm welcome

ST. LOUIS -- If Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips isn't Public Enemy No. 1 in St. Louis, he's probably No. 1-A.

It was one of the least surprising subplots to surface from of Friday's important series opener between the first-place Reds and second-place Cardinals.

"That's what happens when you had what we had and we're on the road and in their town for the first time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said before the game.

Last month before the two teams met for another pivotal series -- this time with first place on the line in Cincinnati, Phillips made inflammatory comments while talking about hating the Cardinals.

That was the spark for a benches clearing donnybrook on Aug. 10 when St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina had some words in response for Phillips before his first at-bat after he attempted a friendly tap of Molina's shin guard with his bat.

Just how much is Phillips disliked by Cardinals fans? During his 0-for-4 night in the Reds' 3-2 loss, he was booed lustily throughout the entirety of each at-bat.

"I think everybody expected it," Cardinals reliever Kyle McClellan said. "I think these fans took offense to it too. just the energy today, it was unbelievable. I think that's what we really needed. We came off a hard road trip, and we were ready to turn the page, but to have the fans behind us and the energy, right out the gate, I think that was real important."

When Phillips struck out in the top of the first inning, pitcher Jaime Garcia was given a standing ovation. This time, Phillips did not attempt to engage Molina with a bat tap before stepping into the batter's box.

In the top of the third inning, Phillips lined a foul ball several rows behind the first-base dugout. At the urging of the crowd, the fan who caught the ball threw it back. This wasn't a home run ball, mind you, but a foul ball. The fan was promptly ejected by security.

"It was funny," McClellan said. "The first one, they booed the guy that didn't throw it back. And the next one, [teammate Mitchell Boggs] said, 'That ball's coming back.' We could see it from the bullpen. The guy was fighting to get it, and showed it off, and then let it eat. He had a pretty good arm, too."

Even when Jon Jay had a horrid bunt attempt that popped up to second base in the eighth, the boos weren't for him. They were heaped upon Phillips, naturally.

"I expected it. Hopefully Brandon responds and does better tomorrow," Baker said after the game.

This was Phillips' first start for the Reds since Aug. 25 in San Francisco when he was hit on the right hand by a 95 mph fastball from Giants reliever Santiago Casilla. Phillips has been limited to pinch-running appearances since.

Since his trash talk about the Cardinals, Phillips has gone 2-for-18 in his last four games vs. St. Louis.

As for the other Reds player that has brought as much furor to St. Louis, if not more, pitcher Johnny Cueto is not scheduled to pitch in the series and wasn't even in town. Cueto, who drew a seven-game suspension for kicking Cardinals players during last month's melee, had to leave the club because of a family emergency.

Had Cueto pitched, he might have really tested Cardinals fans' vocal cords and booing prowess.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.