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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

McCann stands up for Maholm, Braves

McCann stands up for Maholm, Braves

McCann stands up for Maholm, Braves

Brian McCann is the heart and soul of the Atlanta Braves. So on Wednesday night, he did what great leaders almost always do. McCann stood up for his pitcher, and he stood up for his team.

In the end, that's all this was about. Was McCann right to confront Brewers left fielder Carlos Gomez at home plate? Could he have have looked the other way?

Clown questions, bro. McCann was reacting in the heat of the moment. In a situation bubbling with anger and emotion, he did what almost anyone who knows McCann might have expected.

These are tough, resilient, competitive people who've risen to the very highest level of their profession. These are not people who got where they are by backing down from a challenge.

To McCann, this was a matter of respect. For his teammates. For his game. For his home ballpark. And this whole thing captured the meaning of September baseball.

The Braves have been one of baseball's best teams since Opening Day, one of the teams that would surprise absolutely no one by winning the World Series. In a season of high expectations, they've endured injuries and slumps, tests large and small, and still sailed to the National League East championship.

For the Brewers, this has been a season of bitter disappointment. They, too, began the season with optimism and expectations. Nothing has gone right, and they began Wednesday 17 games under .500 and 22 1/2 games out of first place. They're five days away from an offseason filled with uncertainty as their front office tries again to get it right.

Gomez began the day with a grudge. He remembered that Braves starter Paul Maholm had hit him with a pitch on June 23. He believes it was intentional.

"If you see the replay," Gomez said, "they hit me for no reason."

Gomez showed up ready to get even. That much was clear when he stepped into the batter's box against Maholm in the first inning. Gomez almost came out of his shoes swinging at Maholm's first pitch. His reaction announced where this was going. Gomez glared at Maholm, his face lined with tension and anger. And then he jacked Maholm's next pitch out of the park. Gomez stood there and briefly admired it.

When Gomez began to run, he began to talk, too. Loudly. At Maholm. As Gomez rounded first base, still talking, still glaring, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman did some yelling, too.

And when Gomez rounded third, he kept barking at Maholm. He was so focused on Maholm that he didn't see McCann had moved several feet up the third-base line and straddled it.

Gomez looked toward home plate at the last minute and seemed startled to see McCann there. McCann had raised his mask onto his head as if he was almost taunting Gomez to take a shot. And that's when all hell broke loose in Atlanta.

Gomez and McCann yelled at one another as an umpire tried to get between them. Both dugouts quickly emptied and both players kept jawing. It took three Brewers to get Gomez back to the dugout.

Afterward, Gomez admitted he'd gone too far and said McCann did what he was supposed to do.

"If I'm the catcher, I do the same thing," Gomez said.

The incident will be front and center on talk radio and the blogs Thursday. There'll be people who say this guy was wrong or that one was wrong. Everything will look different in hindsight. People in the heat of the moment -- competitive, fiery people -- don't have the benefit of hindsight. They react.

Maybe the Brewers will think Gomez overreacted. After all, his reaction to something that happened in June set the whole thing off. But there won't be one negative word about McCann in the Atlanta clubhouse.

This is why McCann's teammates love him. In the moment, he went to bat for his teammate, his team and his home ballpark.

This stuff isn't new to the Braves. McCann had words with Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez after the kid hit a home run and took a leisurely stroll around the bases. The Braves and Nationals got into it earlier this season after Bryce Harper was hit by a pitch.

At a time when some of their fans may have wondered if the Braves would be in cruise control after clinching the NL East on Sunday, they appear to have some fight left in them.

McCann left Turner Field before reporters were allowed into the clubhouse. What could he say anyway? McCann did what he thought he was supposed to do. He did what any of us would want a teammate to do.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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