Chicago pitcher Carlos Zambrano, apparently angered by Michael Barrett's defensive mistakes, took a swing at the catcher in a dugout scuffle Friday in the Atlanta Braves' 8-5 win over the Cubs.
Zambrano (5-5) and Barrett had to be separated after a skirmish in the dugout in the fifth inning. The Braves had just scored five runs, including one on a combination passed ball and throwing error by Barrett. After the Cubs players came off the field, a frustrated Zambrano confronted Barrett in the dugout, said something, and then slapped the catcher.
"It was about the pitch that Barrett missed," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said about why tempers flared. "We broke it up. I walked Zambrano up [into the clubhouse] with a couple players. I was back on the bench watching the ballgame, and they got into it again in the clubhouse. It's something that shouldn't happen, but it did. We'll address it [Saturday]."
Barrett suffered a cut lip during the clubhouse confrontation. He was supposed to stay in the game, but instead was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Neither player was available for comment after the game.
"That's not supposed to happen on this team," Chicago's Alfonso Soriano said. "We're supposed to be like a family. I think there's too much frustration in this clubhouse. We have to try to come back [Saturday] and turn this thing around."
Friday's loss was the fifth in a row, a season high, and dropped the Cubs to 22-30, a season-low eight games under .500. The team has not lived up to the high expectations following management's $300 million offseason spending spree.
"It's tough," Soriano said. "We're not playing very good right now. It's embarrassing for everybody here. We're supposed to be like a family. That's not supposed to happen on the team."
But it did. It's just that most fights are behind closed doors.
"This is not the first time players have fought on a team," Piniella said. "When I was with the Yankees, it seemed like it happened a lot. It shouldn't happen; it really shouldn't. You should concentrate your energies and your efforts on the opposing team. Sometimes things do flare up and they get out of hand."
"Fights are going to happen," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said. "It's not uncommon. I wish it wouldn't have happened in the dugout. I wish they would've brought it back here or in the tunnel if they wanted to fight. That's not our concern. Our concern is we need to play better baseball."
Barrett's defensive replacement in the sixth was Koyie Hill, who was called up earlier in the day from Triple-A Iowa. Catcher Henry Blanco, recently designated as Zambrano's catcher, had to go on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his neck.
"You always want to get in a game," Hill said. "I'm not sure this is the way you want to get in there."
It's been a tough week for Barrett, who made some critical mistakes in Sunday's game in Los Angeles, and was picked off second base Tuesday in Chicago against the Florida Marlins. Piniella had given Barrett a "mental health" day off Wednesday.
This probably wasn't how Zambrano planned on spending his 26th birthday. He has been inconsistent this season, and on Friday gave up seven runs, six earned, on 13 hits and two walks over five innings. He entered the game 4-0 in his last six June starts, and dropped his first game in the month since June 22, 2005, when he lasted 1 2/3 innings in a 9-4 loss to Milwaukee.
"Unfortunately, it happened," Lee said of the fight. "What happened today in the game concerns me more."
Jeff Francoeur drove in three runs to give Kyle Davies (3-3) the win. Atlanta took advantage of sloppy play by the Cubs. Shortstop Ryan Theriot lost Kelly Johnson's fly ball in the sun in the first, and two outs later, Johnson scored on Brian McCann's single.
The Braves had runners at first and second with two outs in the fourth when Johnson lofted a ball to right. Both second baseman Mark DeRosa and right fielder Matt Murton converged, and Murton dropped the ball for an error, allowing another run to score.
Atlanta batted around in the eventful fifth. They had two on and one out when Francoeur doubled. Scott Thorman walked and Pete Orr singled, and Francoeur was thrown out at home by Soriano on the play. But Thorman and Orr advanced on a passed ball by Barrett, who tried to throw out Thorman at third. The ball got away for an error, and Thorman scored to make it 5-1. Davies and Johnson each hit RBI doubles to open a 7-1 lead.
Then, Zambrano and Barrett had their melee in the Cubs dugout.
"I've never been on a team where that happened before," said Aramis Ramirez, who hit a two-run homer in the Chicago eighth. "We have four months left. We have to work it out."
The personal matters need to be resolved. So does the team's poor play.
"We're bad," said Lee, who drove in two runs, including one on his fifth home run leading off the fourth. "We're a bad team. Dropping fly balls, it's really inexcusable. We have to do something else. I don't know what it is, but we have to do something different.
"Obviously, the [players-only] meeting didn't work," Lee said about a meeting he called Tuesday. "You can only talk so much. We're grown men. We're Major Leaguers. We've got to figure out a way to do our jobs better. We have a job to do when we cross the line. Right now, it's embarrassing. We've got to find a way to do our jobs."
Piniella will discipline Barrett and Zambrano on Saturday.
"You don't want to see people fight one another on the team," Piniella said. "At the same time, you don't like to see some of the silliness that's going on the field. I only have so many players I can play. It's about time some of them started to play like Major Leaguers or [we] get somebody in here who can catch the [darn] ball or run the bases properly."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.