Redbirds, Reds not red with anger over rivalry

Redbirds, Reds not red with anger over rivalry

When a rivalry turns nasty from time to time, fans are often the last ones to forget the bad blood.

That was certainly evident when the Cardinals and Reds renewed their head-to-head battle for the National League Central last week at Great American Ball Park.

Every time St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina's name was announced, Reds fans booed. In August 2010, Molina and Brandon Phillips were involved in a nasty bench-clearing incident that became the most infamous moment among many during the current rivalry.

"I don't understand why they boo Yadier," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "Yadier has done nothing to deserve the boos. He's been nothing but professional."

Such respect seems to be mutual, and it appears to have replaced much of the venom the two clubs have displayed. Gone is the talk -- publicly, at least -- about anything resembling disdain or dislike.

"They're a good team," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "We're a good team and we're going to play good, hard baseball. I think that's where it ends."

Going back to Spring Training, the Cards have also spoken with praise of the Reds, with several players noting the winter improvements Cincinnati made.

"The Central is a much tougher division than people give it credit for," first baseman Lance Berkman said. "I clearly feel like we should be the favorites to win the division. But Cincinnati did some things this offseason that should really help them."

The Cardinals took two of three from the Reds last week in a series that drew surprisingly low attendance figures. There's a good chance more will flock to Busch Stadium when the matchup renews for three more games, beginning on Tuesday night.

"We know that they have a pretty good team, but we don't care," Molina said. "We're just going to play our game and have a good season."

Without knowing it, Votto grasped Molina's vibe. The 2010 NL Most Valuable Player Award winner doesn't believe the Reds were holding up their end of the rivalry, especially after winning only 79 games last season. The Cards won the World Series.

"I don't think the Cardinals see us at their level," Votto said. "I think they have a high level of confidence. I think they just see us as a stop along the way and not a real head-to-head challenge. I don't think we have earned that yet. It really is what it is. They are the world champions. They're the team that came back and had a great playoff run. They have a swagger about them that the only people they care about is who they see as the best team in the National League. I don't think they care about us. I respect that. If a team that came in third place was trying to fool with us and we had just won the World Series, we'd be like, 'Who cares?'"

There have been three different NL Central winners over the past three seasons, and the Cardinals have had public spats with each of the other two. Last year, it was Milwaukee that drew St. Louis' ire as the Brewers were en route to a division title. Animosity between the Reds and Cards, though, spans several seasons.

Adding to the intrigue is that several former Cardinals are now with the Reds, namely general manager Walt Jocketty. In Cincinnati since 2008, Jocketty has added ex-Cards such as Scott Rolen, Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Cairo. Reds CEO Bob Castellini is a former minority owner of the Cardinals.

Managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker had their share of nasty exchanges -- going back to Baker's time with the Cubs.

It all added layers of context to recent clashes. Among them was an accusation from St. Louis that the Reds didn't properly rub down baseballs used by Cardinals pitchers in both 2009 and '10. In August 2010, Phillips voiced some inflammatory comments about the Cards, which precipitated his on-field clash with Molina.

During the scuffle, Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto -- backed up to the screen behind home plate -- kicked Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue in the head. LaRue sustained a career-ending concussion.

Early in 2011, the Reds felt the Cards took gamesmanship too far and were not forthcoming enough about approaching severe weather in St. Louis. Not long before first pitch, the Redbirds decided to have reliever Miguel Batista start in place of Kyle McClellan. Cincinnati stayed with Edinson Volquez and then couldn't use him when, after Volquez had warmed up, the two teams endured a two-hour delay.

Later last season, some on the Cards' bench accused former Reds closer Francisco Cordero of intentionally hitting Albert Pujols -- charges that were denied.

As for 2012, it's been peaceful -- so far.

One reason might be the disappearance of some central figures. La Russa retired after the Cardinals won the World Series. Pujols signed a bonanza of a contract with the Angels. Pitching coach Dave Duncan, a frequent agitator of Cincinnati, has left the club for personal reasons. And ace Chris Carpenter, who's had a tendency to get under the skin of some Reds with competitive complaints, is on the disabled list indefinitely.

Yet there are others in place to ensure that this head-to-head rivalry remains relevant. Earlier this month, Votto (10 years, $225 million) and Phillips (six years, $72.5 million) inked long-term deals with the Reds. Molina signed a five-year, $75 million contract during Spring Training. Matt Holliday was already signed through 2016.

Could that help old feelings resurface?

"Everybody wants to hear hatred or dislike," Votto said. "I like competing against them because they always go after you. They don't take plays off. It's tough to do in this sport and it's something I respect."

Then again, it only takes one incident to stir the pot back up.

"Whenever you play someone 17 or 18 times a year, you get tired of them," said Kyle Lohse, who will start for St. Louis vs. Cueto on Tuesday. "We'll see how it goes. It should be a battle."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.