The scuffle broke out after three batters were hit by pitches, but no punches were thrown and St. Louis reliever Miguel Batista was the only player ejected. The Nationals went on to a 7-2 victory.
With his team trailing 4-2 in the seventh inning, Batista plunked Ian Desmond in the back. While making his way to first, Desmond jawed with Cardinals catcher Tony Cruz, who was walking behind him. Upon reaching first base, Desmond turned to the mound and yelled at Batista.
The two were teammates last season with Washington.
"Yeah, it was intentional, but I mean Miggy throws like Miss Iowa," Desmond said with a laugh. "We were really trying to keep the fans around. Once [Albert] Pujols came out of the game and
[Chris] Carpenter came out of the game we knew they were going to leave so we decided to add a little entertainment."
Players from both teams poured onto the field, gathering around first base in front of the St. Louis dugout. La Russa, the Cardinals' 66-year-old manager, and Riggleman, his counterpart, had to be separated by players during the fray.
"There was no question in my mind that Batista was going to hit somebody," Riggleman said.
Washington outfielder Nyjer Morgan, known for having a hot temper, also needed to be restrained by a Nationals coach.
Morgan may have drawn the Cardinals' ire by running into Pujols at first base while trying to beat out a bunt in the fifth. The throw from catcher Gerald Laird tailed into the runner. Pujols caught and held the ball long enough to record the out, then dropped his glove, shaking his left wrist. A trainer came out to briefly check on Pujols, who remained in the game.
After the game, Riggleman said he thought Carpenter hit Laynce Nix with a fifth-inning pitch in retaliation for that play.
Carpenter was already in the clubhouse when Batista plunked Desmond. The right-hander returned to the dugout upon hearing that Washington players and coaches blamed him for igniting the fireworks and were questioning why he wasn't out on the field.
"The most idiotic thing was that it was a spring training game. It was stupid," said Carpenter, who allowed four runs and seven hits while walking three in 4 2/3 innings. "If they think it's my fault, I'll go out there. I didn't hit Laynce Nix on purpose."
La Russa halted his postgame news conference after about two minutes following what he believed to be one too many questions about the intentions of his pitchers.
Both he and Carpenter said they didn't mean to hit anyone.
"It's the same story -- it happens to us, it happens to them," La Russa said. "You get hit, you think it's intentional. They hit you, it was accidental. It's been 100 years of this stuff. It's not going to go any farther. That's it."
Washington starter Livan Hernandez plunked Colby Rasmus in the bottom of the fifth and later told reporters that his pitch was intentional. Hernandez left after the fifth -- he gave up two runs and six hits.
Batista, who said he was stretching when Nix got hit and was in the bathroom for the retaliation on Rasmus, entered in the seventh and retired Morgan before nailing Desmond.
"Ian is a great kid. I'm glad I didn't hit him in the wrong spot," Batista said. "I'm still trying to understand what happened."
Laird went 3 for 3 with an RBI in his first game since March 17. He had been dealing with a hamstring issue. ... The Cardinals have their final off day of spring training on Tuesday. Washington hosts Houston on Tuesday before taking its final day off Wednesday.