It has come to this with the Cubs: Unable to beat other teams, they have started beating on each other. Unable to settle things in private meetings, they have taken to public airwaves.
Frustration, then futility and finally fisticuffs.
In the midst of losing their fifth straight game and 11th in the last 15—8-5 to Atlanta on Friday at Wrigley Field—batterymates Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett tussled in the dugout and then apparently had an all-out set-to in the clubhouse.
It left Barrett in the hospital with a cut lip, Zambrano alone to celebrate his 26th birthday and teammates wondering what happened.
While manager Lou Piniella pledged there would be disciplinary action after he meets with both players before Saturday's game, several teammates said they were "embarrassed" by this season spiraling into insignificance.
"We're not putting everything together now and that [fight] happens," said Alfonso Soriano, the team's highest-paid player. "So I'm embarrassed for everybody here because we're supposed to be like a family and that's not supposed to happen."
Of course the team wasn't supposed to be 22-30 at this point of the season, one marred by baserunning blunders, bad fielding, untimely hitting and inept relief pitching.
It became so bad Wednesday that unofficial team captain Derrek Lee called a players-only meeting.
"Obviously the meeting didn't work, so I don't know about [more] meetings," Lee said. "You can only talk so much. We're grown men, we're major-leaguers, we have to figure out a way to do our jobs better. Right now it's embarrassing."
The disappointing play had been irritating the Cubs for days and it finally boiled over Friday after an unsightly top of the fifth inning in which Zambrano allowed five runs on five hits and Barrett was charged with a passed ball and a throwing error on the same play.
Emotions had been building the entire game, as Zambrano became frustrated by sloppy play. Shortstop Ryan Theriot missed a popup on the first play of the game that led to a run and right fielder Matt Murton's error on a dropped fly accounted for another run in the fourth inning.
Then came the fifth when Zambrano walked the leadoff man and Barrett committed his error. After Barrett's miscues, Zambrano allowed a single to .189-hitting Pete Orr and a double to pitcher Kyle Davies, a .067 hitter.
When the inning finally ended, Zambrano had given up seven runs on 13 hits as his earned-run average rose to 5.62.
Then he approached Barrett in the dugout and pointed to his head while yelling.
Barrett pointed toward the outfield or scoreboard and said something back. Zambrano then took a swipe at Barrett's head and the two exchanged brief blows before being separated.
"It was about the pitch that Barrett missed," Piniella said. "We broke it up and I walked Zambrano [to the clubhouse] with a couple of players and I was back on the bench watching the ballgame [when] they got into it again in the clubhouse."
Why were the two allowed in the same area at the same time?
"We took [Zambrano] into the clubhouse and I told him to just take a shower and go home," Piniella said. "And Michael went up there. I was watching the game."
Zambrano was being removed from the game because of his ineffectiveness. Barrett would have stayed in if not for the clubhouse altercation.
"It's frustrating for everybody," Piniella said. "These things shouldn't happen among teammates. Go fight the other team if you have to."
General manager Jim Hendry was out of town scouting amateur talent for Thursday's draft but was kept informed of the incidents.
Assistant general manager Randy Bush said the organization would "leave it up to Lou" to determine the penalties, although management might have to get involved if suspensions or fines are levied.
Bush said the incident would not affect the team's efforts to sign Zambrano before he becomes a free agent.
Regarding Barrett, he said, "You don't look at one incident and let that slant how you look at a player."
Barrett now has been involved in two recent incidents. He slugged White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski during last year's interleague series at U.S. Cellular Field.
And so another strange day ended at Wrigley Field, where a fan ran onto the field just as Aramis Ramirez was connecting for a home run in the eighth inning. The fan was corralled before he could cause further trouble, which is more than could be said for the Cubs.