Ump Show? Cardinals’ Mikolas ejected for plunking Happ as retribution for Contreras head injury

The Cubs beat the Cardinals 10-3 at Busch Stadium as the unexpected workload for the bullpen proved too much for St. Louis to overcome.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol argues with umpire Will Little (93) after Miles...
St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol argues with umpire Will Little (93) after Miles Mikolas was ejected during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, July 27, 2023, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)(Scott Kane | AP)
Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 8:35 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - It all started when Ian Happ’s backswing got away from him—and ended with the Cardinals’ starting battery and manager all leaving the game before the conclusion of the top of the first inning.

Happ’s exuberant attempt to connect with a Miles Mikolas breaking ball in the first inning between the Cardinals and Cubs at Busch Stadium Thursday night resulted in Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras getting bashed on the backside of the head with a baseball bat. After being tended to by the athletic training staff on the field, blood streaming from his head, Contreras left the game with what the team later called a “scalp laceration.”

Contreras told reporters after the Cubs’ 10-3 win over the Cardinals that he passed a concussion test and was hopeful that he would return to the lineup Friday.

Although former teammates Happ and Contreras engaged in a quick hug before the catcher departed the playing surface, demonstrating no ill will on the part of the batter, Mikolas still seemed to subscribe to Hammubari’s version of the unwritten rules.

With the first pitch following the resumption of play following Contreras’ injury, the Cardinal starter buzzed Happ inside with a fastball—in front of God, the Busch Stadium crowd, and the very umpire crew that elected not to issue a warning. It’s that final piece of the puzzle that had the Cardinals so fired up when Mikolas was ejected on the following pitch for plunking Happ in the backside.

“I was a little surprised,” Mikolas said. “I threw a pitch inside, it got ‘em. He was just going to take his base. There was no chirping or anything between the sides. He was going to take his base and I was waiting on the next ball, go get the next hitter. They had a meeting and they decided to toss me.”

Happ knew the deal and took his base without protesting the obviously intentional hit-by-pitch. But the umpires convened and tossed Mikolas for violating a rule that is, actually, written down.

If the umpire deems that you intentionally hit a batter with a pitch, you’re gone from the game. That’s the rule, officially. And since everyone in the stadium seemed to understand what Mikolas was doing after the second of two inside pitches found Happ’s flesh, the umpires stuck to the letter of the law.

“I could show you the scouting report in my locker,” Mikolas said. “I throw inside to a lot of guys. I threw one inside and it hit him. There was no warning. The umpires can believe whatever they want to believe. They had a meeting and that was their choice.”

“They believed there was intent there. That’s all the reasoning that umpires need.”

Of course, Mikolas did it. He can’t say it--MLB would gleefully fine him if he says the wrong thing after the game. But he did it. Yet, he did it in a way that has been universally accepted in baseball for a hundred years.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Bally Sports Midwest commentator Brad Thompson said after Mikolas was tossed. “Have a little feel for baseball. Have a little feel for the game.”

On the surface, it seemed Thompson had a point. Even Happ seemed to understand the situation, that despite his pure intentions, he injured the Cardinals starting catcher. Plunking Happ on the rear end effectively delivers a mild message—but one still valued by some players, clearly—that Mikolas has his catcher’s back.

It’s conceivable, then, that Mikolas was penalized for his inability to execute the hit on the first attempt. When he required a second pitch to plunk Happ instead of just getting it done on the initial try, he’s asking the umpires at that point to literally turn a blind eye to what an entire stadium had witnessed.

Though their own negligence in not issuing a warning after the first inside pitch to Happ allowed the situation to escalate, the umpires stepped in after the next delivery and enforced the rule. Mikolas was ejected, with Cardinals manager Oli Marmol following him back to the clubhouse, as well.

“If the explanation was that there was intent behind the first pitch, then I feel like there should have been a warning after the first pitch,” Oli Marmol said. “It could have saved everybody a lot of trouble.”

The Cardinals didn’t come away looking particularly rosy from the chirping that then ensued between the dugouts. Mikolas and Jack Flaherty both gestured and shouted with furor toward the Chicago side—while several Cubs appeared to laugh off the exchange.

“Guys weren’t happy about the other side just laughing about the situation,” Marmol said. “We had a catcher go down. He’s bleeding. They took offense to that. Umpire and Jack were having a conversation and it led to my ejection.”

Mikolas’ noble if misguided move to defend Contreras’ honor turned out to have been a decision with nightmarish consequences for the Cardinals as Dakota Hudson followed Mikolas into the game and poured gasoline on the fire.

Though the Happ at-bat occurred with two out and nobody on base in the first inning, the Cubs ended up scoring three runs in the frame. Hudson was charged with five earned runs, but Mikolas was charged a run when Happ came around to score, sealing the starter’s fate as the losing pitcher despite the hit batter representing the only base runner he allowed on the night.

Catcher Andrew Knizner enjoyed his first-ever multi-home run game in the big leagues after replacing Contreras in the clean-up spot. Tyler O’Neill was another rare bright spot offensively for St. Louis as the outfielder reached base four times, including a double.