Cubs manager David Ross broke up a heated exchange in the dugout Friday night between Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Willson Contreras in a scene that seemed to sum up some of the frustration during the first two nights of a tough West Coast trip.
“Just a disagreement on some competitive stuff,” Ross said after the 8-5 loss to the Giants in San Francisco, downplaying the incident.
After the Cubs escaped a jam in the bottom of the seventh inning that included a Javy Báez throwing error and a would-be base stealer thrown out by Contreras, the catcher was seen on the broadcast throwing his chest protector down angrily in the dugout as Ross approached to talk to him.
Rizzo then enters the frame yelling and gesturing, with Ross responding by turning to Rizzo and walking him to the other end of the dugout as Rizzo continues to shout at Contreras.
Rizzo said the issue was “just the competition and what’s at stake and everything” and that he and Contreras had moved past it by the end of the game.
The Cubs lost the first two games of a two-city trip against the top two teams in the National League after winning nine of 10 to overtake the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central.
The front office has made it clear the team’s performance over the next month will be the determining factor in whether it buys or sells at the trade deadline next month, with most of the roster — including All-Star core players Rizzo, Báez and Kris Bryant — barely four months away from free agency.
Whether any of that was part of what Rizzo considered “at stake” in the dugout Friday night, or whether it was a more typical, in-the-moment dustup, Ross and Rizzo read from almost identical scripts in downplaying the incident on Zoom sessions with media.
Ross called it “just part of the family atmosphere you get in baseball with guys competing at the highest level and trying to continue to fight and do what’s best and win. Sometimes you’re not going to see eye to eye.
“We’ve got a close-knit group," Ross added, "and that’s usually when those things happen, when you’ve got guys that know each other, care about each other, are passionate and have emotions.
“I don’t think it’s anything that’s a huge deal or something that I’m extremely worried about.”
Good thing Rizzo and Contreras aren’t first-year teammates who have no feelings for each other, or who knows what would be left of the visitors dugout at Oracle Park.
“I love Willson,” Rizzo said, “the way he plays for this team, for our city, with the passion he plays with — you can’t match it in this league.
“The beauty of this team is how we’ve known each other and played with each other for so long that we could have those brotherly love conversations, and onto the next. We’re down in the tunnel a little bit talking, and it ends there, and we just move on. With our relationships here it’s easy to talk to each other like we’re brothers.”
Rizzo, Contreras, Báez and Bryant have been teammates since the middle of the 2016 championship season, when Ross was still a teammate.
“We have some fun in here, and we also butt some heads on things,” Rizzo said. “We have high stakes at hand; we all know that. In any working environment you’re going to run into things here and there. But I think when we’re as close-knit as we are, these things happen — it was on TV unfortunately — but it’s easy for us to move past it.”
At least until they move on to the next.