The Rundown: Ejections Beget Rally, Russell Could Return This Weekend, Rondon’s Elbow and Bullpen Issues

In what was perhaps the John Lackey-est moment of all time, the quick-to-anger starter was tossed in the 5th inning for arguing with home plate umpire Jordan Baker. Then again, arguing would entail opposing points of view, and the umpire wasn’t really entitled to one in this case. Lackey was absolutely right to fume over a terrible call that led to him meatballing the next pitch to Carlos Martinez for an RBI single, but the manner in which he did it leaves a lot to be desired.

Lackey was itching for a fight and had his considerable fangs bared as he rushed behind the plate to back up the incoming play. I’m reasonably sure that’s the fastest I’ve every seen the ol’ hoss move, motivated as he was by a mix of bloodlust and fundamental propriety. Actually, I’d be willing to bet the former provided far more fuel to get his steam engine going. And I’m certain the images of the kerfuffle provided more than their share of nightmare fuel.

Many have argued that Baker should have cut Lack more slack and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, it was also clearly obvious that the pitcher wasn’t going to be happy without exacting a pound of flesh. That’s kind of his thing and you knew where it was headed the moment C-Mart lined that RBI single.

Things really went off the rails when Willson Contreras, who wasn’t even looking in Baker’s direction, was tossed. The catcher had been talking to the ump, but the conversation appeared mild even without the context of the eruption of Mount Lackey. And then there was effete manner in which Baker signaled the ejection, as though he was too important to be bothered by these trifling shenanigans.

That’s when WillCo went off, spiking his mask into the ground and getting in Baker’s face as the protective gear bounced up and grazed the ump. I’m not sure whether further discipline will come of that, but there is precedent for it. Back in 2012, Edward Fortyhands, er, Brett Lawrie, was suspended four games “for his aggressive actions toward umpire Bill Miller,” which were highlighted by spiking his batting helmet in such a way that it struck the umpire who had made two very poor calls.

Unless Joe Torre and his minions are feeling like complete jerkfaces, however, there’s no way WillCo’s move earns more than two games. Lawrie was running full-tilt toward Miller from a good distances off and launched his helmet in the ump’s general direction. I’m not saying there was intent, but it was a far more malicious-looking move and made harder contact than in this recent case. While Contreras slammed his mask down in anger, only a fool would believe he did so with anything approaching intent. Not to mention the complete inability to determine the resultant direction of such an odd-shaped piece of equipment.

“First of all, I didn’t mean to hit the umpire,” Contreras said after the game over the dulcet tones of Biggie Smalls’ Juicy. “I’m not that kind of guy, but I think (Lackey) made a good pitch even though I got crossed up [for what it’s worth, Lackey says they were not crossed up]. I just got fired up and I couldn’t control my emotions. If I have to apologize, I’d apologize to the umpire because I didn’t mean to hit him and I didn’t mean to hurt anybody.”

He went on to further apologize to the fans and said the whole mess was a learning experience. Lackey, on the other hand, was not as contrite when asked if he’d have done anything differently if given a do-over.

“Not really, no,” the pitcher admitted. “It’s a pretty big spot there and he cost me a big-league win. Those don’t grow on trees.”

While that may be true in a literal sense, it was kind of a weird sentiment. Not as weird as Lackey answering a question about the bullpen’s strong performance by saying the starters can only go as long as the manger will let them. Which…okay.

That perplexing statement actually makes complete sense though, not only because it’s quintessential Lackey, but because it followed such an odd game from start to finish. Pat Hughes called out no fewer than three turning points in the 6th inning alone and we saw all kinds of weird plays, from the best catcher in the history of the last 12 years of Cardinals baseball bobbling an easy play at the plate to a ricochet off the wall that led to Javy Baez throwing out Discount Mike Glennon at second.

“It’s crazy how the game works like that sometimes,” Kris Bryant said while shaking his head in amazement. “You make a good pitch, it doesn’t go your way, and the very next pitch is…you know, changes the game. I think it was a nice little spark for us and some energy that we all needed.”

Maybe that spark will stay lit throughout the weekend.

Russell’s return imminent

Addison Russell took a break from his rehab work Friday, but he says he’s pain-free and ready to return to the lineup. Joe Maddon agreed that it’s very close, saying that a determination on Russell’s readiness would be made after Saturday’s workout. Friday’s game may have a hand — or, more accurately, a wrist — in that decision as well.

“I’m feeling pretty good, you know. I think I’m game-ready,” Russell told the media in the clubhouse Friday. “Maybe a chance this weekend, maybe a chance early next week. I think this weekend would definitely be ideal.”

There’s no doubt the emotion and energy of having the Cardinals in town with the two teams fighting for the division factors heavily for Russell, but the Cubs have been in no hurry to rush him back. If anything, he might get some action as a pinch hitter during this series, with the potential to either start or DH in Tampa next week.

Then again, there may be a little more urgency after Javy Baez tweaked his wrist on play in the hole Friday. He was able to remain in the game, but neither his body language nor his awkward swings in his subsequent at-bat made you feel good about his health. Joe Maddon announced after the game that Javy was “OK,” but what does that really mean?

I want to believe that’s the case, but Javy rolled it over pretty good and we’re talking about his left wrist. You know, the one at the bottom of the bat on that massive swing. We’ve seen how that has impacted Ben Zobrist from the right side of the plate since May, and he doesn’t rely on nearly the torque Javy does. But I’m probably just worrying needlessly at this point.

Rondon sidelined

The Cubs announced Friday that Hector Rondon would be sidelined with a little inflammation in his elbow, but that there was no structural damage. He received a cortisone shot and is expected to miss about a week as the irritation subsides. So I guess that’s not all bad, though the absence of anyone who’s played even a moderately important role in the bullpen is scary.

Justin Wilson came into the game in a tight spot and was able to get the job done, which was a nice surprise. I’d love to say I thought this could be a precursor of sorts, but I’ve gotten to the point with Wilson where I just want to see him avoid walking two batters when he’s in there.

So dire is the bullpen situation that Maddon called on closer Wade Davis to make his first regular-season appearance of more than one inning since early 2014. In a six-run game. The closer only threw 25 pitches, six or seven shy of his normal workload, and should be available Saturday as well. Still, it’d be nice for the offense to blow up again and make that a moot point.

More news and notes

• The Nationals are cautiously optimistic that Bryce Harper can make it back this season

• Jimmy Nelson was already out for the season, but it was announced Friday that he’d need surgery. The extent of the damage and exactly what course of action the surgeons will take won’t be known until they get in there and start poking around, which has got to be a really fun situation for a pitcher.

• The Red Sox and Yankees were each fined undisclosed sums for the improper use of technology following allegations that they had respectively used an Apple Watch and YES Network camera to steal signs. MLB could not fully substantiate the claim against the Yankees, but this is kind of one of those situations where you punish both kids when they tattle on each other.

• Jason Kipnis is expected to start in center for the Indians this weekend, which is just crazy. Maybe not as crazy as the 22-game win streak that just ended last night or the three-game losing streak that ended their 2016 season, but definitely something to watch.

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