Benches clear twice as Nationals complete sweep

Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Frustrated Cubs start pair of ugly incidents

On they came, charging out of the dugouts and the bullpens, two teams whose seasons have been complete opposites: the Nationals, en route to another blowout win, and the Cubs, just hoping a miserable 2012 comes to an end soon.

Their pair of bench-clearing brawls in the midst of a 9-2 Washington victory lent intrigue to an otherwise lopsided affair.

The first fracas actually started in the bottom of the fifth inning when Nats third base coach Bo Porter walked over to the Chicago dugout and engaged in a screaming match with Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk. Eventually the discussion became so heated that players from both teams jogged onto the field and umpires had to intervene. Quirk was ejected; Porter was not.

"If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "But we're going to keep competing."

That appeared to be the end of it, however. Washington led 7-2 at the time, and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was cruising after a rough start. He had retired 13 of 14 Cubs batters starting with the final out of the second inning, allowing only an infield hit to Anthony Rizzo in the sixth.

But things turned ugly in the bottom of the sixth. The first pitch from Chicago reliever Lendy Castillo was inside and almost hit leadoff batter Bryce Harper, who took a few steps to the mound and yelled his displeasure. That emptied the benches and bullpens again with players on both sides jawing at each other.

But things settled down until Rizzo and Nats reliever Michael Gonzalez got into an altercation as everyone was leaving the field. That began a legitimate brawl with players pushing and shoving. Gonzalez, Sean Burnett, Michael Morse and Edwin Jackson all shouted at Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger, who apparently threw a punch at one of their teammates during the melee. Whether that actually happened, Clevenger was ejected along with Chicago pitcher Manuel Corpas. Gonzalez was the only Washington player tossed from the game.

The source of the Cubs' frustrations was obvious. They were humiliated during a four-game sweep in the District as the losses continue to mount. They are now 51-86 and have won just five games since Aug. 17. Washington outscored Chicago 31-9 and hit 15 home runs in the series.

Meanwhile, the Nats kept pace with the second-place Atlanta Braves, who won earlier in the day. Washington is now 85-52, and its magic number to clinch the National League East is down to 18 games.

Coming off the worst start of his career, eight earned runs to St. Louis on Saturday, Jordan Zimmermann gave up an early homer to Rizzo in the first inning, a pair of triples in the second and a couple of hard-hit outs. But he was virtually untouchable after that. Zimmermann allowed two earned runs on five hits and a walk with nine strikeouts in seven innings.

"It's definitely important [to bounce back like that]," Zimmermann said on MASN2. "All the other starters are coming out and going six or seven innings. I felt like I was the weakest link."

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