MILWAUKEE – Nearing the end of another lost season, the Cubs have kept up the appearance of clubhouse harmony. Dale Sveum vs. Edwin Jackson shattered that illusion – at least for a few moments – reminding everyone how messy this rebuilding project can get.
It may be a surprise there hasn’t been more blow-ups and finger-pointing around this team. But when a Fox Sports Wisconsin feed inside Miller Park caught Sveum jawing with Jackson on Monday night, it was a revealing look behind the curtain.
The Cubs downplayed that fifth-inning dugout scene after a sloppy 6-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. It wasn’t a Carlos Zambrano meltdown or Ryan Dempster undercutting Mike Quade with a tantrum. There’s not many players left in the room that have that kind of juice.
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But this was the manager Theo Epstein’s front office hired to lead the organization back into October screaming at a $52 million pitcher.
“He wasn’t real happy being taken out of the game and I understand that,” Sveum said. “But that’s my decision and we’ll leave it at that.”
Sveum pulled Jackson after 76 pitches, going with pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic. Coaches Jamie Quirk, Chris Bosio and Rob Deer stepped into the argument. Outfielder Darnell McDonald followed Jackson toward the hallway into the clubhouse.
Sveum speaks in monotone with the media and rarely throws his players under the bus. He also earned the nickname “Nuts” during his playing career here with the Brewers. What set off the manager with the tattoos?
“I don’t know,” said Jackson, who gave up two runs in four innings. “But either way, I don’t have a problem with him. I’m sure he don’t have a problem with me. It’s something that happened, but it’s not really a big deal. It might be made more of a big deal than it really is, maybe blown out of proportion.
“But I don’t have a problem with anybody on the staff.”
Sveum had helped recruit Jackson along with general manager Jed Hoyer, meeting the free agent in Newport Beach, Calif., the same day team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts made their presentation to pitcher Anibal Sanchez last December at a Miami restaurant.
Sanchez used the Cubs to get a five-year, $80 million deal from the Detroit Tigers and leads the American League with a 2.50 ERA. Jackson now leads the National League with 16 losses and has three years remaining on that contract.
Jackson (4.75 ERA) has prided himself on being the same chill guy every day during a disappointing season. But he’s frustrated Sveum by not always “throwing with conviction” and executing the game plans.
Jackson walked three guys you probably never heard of before – Scooter Gennett, Caleb Gindl and Martin Maldonado – to load the bases with two outs in the second inning. Bosio visited the mound before Jackson struck out pitcher Wily Peralta.
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It unraveled in the fourth inning when Gindl drove a ball off the yellow-and-black Caterpillar sign in center field for an RBI triple. Jackson then fielded Maldonado’s bunt and didn’t throw home in what looked like a Matt Garza impression. Jackson threw the ball behind second baseman Darwin Barney – who was covering first base – and into right field.
Jackson didn’t think his night would be over that quickly.
“I was caught off-guard a little bit,” Jackson said, “but that’s the nature of the game. He’s the manager and he can make the calls whenever he feels like he needs to.”
Sveum framed it this way, with a runner on third: “He was already at 75 pitches and I felt as many one-run games as we play – and in this ballpark – I was going to take a shot at tying it back up and making sure we scored that one run.”
Even with that rational explanation, Sveum looked as animated and angry as he gets when he’s arguing with umpires.
“You don’t want confrontation, especially in the dugout,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who got involved near the bat rack. “You want that stuff to happen behind the scenes, if it does happen at all. Edwin’s my teammate, so you just try to walk him out, calm him down and go on.
“I don’t think you can find a starting pitcher in the league that’s not going to be upset getting pulled. If it could have been handled differently, it would have been handled differently. But I know every pitcher, every player, in this game is competitive.”
That’s how a 63-87 team is going to spin Sveum vs. Jackson.
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“Maybe a little bit (of shock),” Jackson said. “But even right after that, I didn’t have a problem with him. I still don’t have a problem with him.”