Almost exactly one year ago, Ian Happ and Willson Contreras waited out their Cubs futures at Busch Stadium on trade deadline day, the potential end to their time in Chicago and as teammates.
They crossed paths again Thursday in St. Louis as opponents caught within the fluky moments of the sport that quickly spiraled out of control for the Cardinals.
Happ hit Contreras in the head on his backswing during the first inning of the Cubs’ 10-3 win that moved them to .500. The knock cut and bloodied Contreras’ scalp, forcing him out of the game. Happ hugged Contreras, who pressed a towel to his head and was helped back to the dugout.
When Happ stepped back into the batter’s box to resume his at-bat against Miles Mikolas, the right-hander threw a fastball up and in to Happ, who dodged the pitch. Mikolas didn’t miss with the next one, hitting Happ on his right glute. It prompted the umpire crew to gather to discuss the situation and deemed Mikolas intentionally drilled Happ with the second pitch. Plate umpire Ryan Additon ejected Mikolas, and Cardinals manager Oli Marmol was ejected, too, by first-base umpire Will Little.
Asked if he was surprised Mikolas hit him after the location of the previous pitch, Happ said: “No, it kind of felt like he was trying to go in there. You have the ability to get on base for the team, that’s the important thing.”
Added manager David Ross: “As a former catcher, that backswing stuff is just scary. It happens. Obviously Happ’s not trying to do that. It’s just part of the game. It stinks.”
The umpire crew is, by rule, required to confer on any throwing incidents before issuing an ejection. They did not believe Mikolas intended to hit Happ with the first pitch after Contreras got whacked by Happ’s bat, so no warnings were issued. But once Mikolas followed with the next pitch that drilled Happ, the four-man crew unanimously agreed it was an intentional act.
“That was actually pretty easy,” crew chief Lance Barksdale told a pool reporter. “If he does it later in the game, maybe it puts some doubt in your mind, maybe he didn’t mean to do it. Two pitches in, like I said, it’s pretty easy on our part.”
Some jawing between the two dugouts, including Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, prompted Little and third-base umpire Merzel to stay near the Cardinals and Cubs dugouts, respectively, to ensure nothing happened.
“Jack actually started over the railing of the dugout,” Little said through a pool reporter. “So the last thing we need is to have them come back out, and the worst thing that could happen them wanting to do the same thing, and then it’s leading to a bench-clearing (event).”
Happ texted Contreras after the game to check in on his former teammate. Six years together spawned a good friendship, a bond that was strengthened after the 2021 trade deadline through sharing their All-Star Game experience last year and each of their unknowns about their long-term futures with the organization.
“A lot of love for him,” Happ said. “To see him go down and be bleeding from the head, it’s obviously a scary moment.”
Happ wasn’t surprised to see Contreras attempt to stay in the game.
“He was trying really hard to stay in the game and trying to fight the trainer as blood’s coming out of his head,” Happ said. “That’s who he is. We saw that over here for a long time and it’s kind of competitor he is.”
The Cubs went on to win 10-3 for their sixth consecutive victory and eighth in nine games. At 51-51, they are .500 for the first time since May 12.