By Jeff Jones

Twitter – @jmjones

CHICAGO — A reliable estimate had the St. Louis Cardinals arriving at their Chicago hotel at 1:20 AM on Friday, so you can forgive John Brebbia if he sounded a little scratchy in the throat when he spoke to reporters at around 10 AM.

You can also forgive him if he’s a little weary of talking about a story that sprang up out of nowhere but has grown fresh legs with the Cardinals matching up with the rival Cubs for the first time in 2019.

“Maybe I wish that I felt differently,” Brebbia said, “but every outing against everyone we play feels kind of the same. I don’t want any [opponent] to score, and nobody else on the team wants anyone to either.”

The rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals needs no additional fuel for its fire. Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak referred to the matchup as “historic,” and few would argue. Yet this winter, with both the Cubs Convention and St. Louis’s Winter Warm Up occurring on the same weekend, a war of words managed to break out. Or, at least, a border skirmish.

First was Chicago’s Kris Bryant, who jocularly referred to St. Louis as “boring” during a faux-late night interview with former Cub Ryan Dempster. Later came Yadier Molina, who took to Instagram to defend what Mozeliak called his second home and lob insults at Bryant, Dempster, and other “stupid players and losers.”

In the middle was Brebbia, offering an off-the-cuff response to a fan at a Cardinal Caravan stop: “Cry me a river, loser.”

For anyone who’s spent time around the Cardinal right-hander, the tone was immediately apparent. Injured pitcher Luke Gregerson gently chided the assembled media on Friday morning for going to Brebbia to provide amusing quotes on a quiet morning, and that assessment was a fair one. Brebbia is highly quotable.

Or, as Mozeliak put it, “I think we’d all agree if you know John Brebbia that he is clever and witty, so we should expect nothing less.”

To his credit, Brebbia was willing to entertain the concept of the barbs with Bryant in the context of promos cut by professional wrestlers.

“I think that if I were a professional wrestler,” Brebbia mused, “my origin story would be as a good guy, but it would slowly change to an evil pro wrestler.”

Would he bash a good guy with a chair to put himself over?

“Yeah. I’m a big props guy. I would use a lot of props.”

Those expecting residual kayfabe anger – at least from the Cardinals – are likely to be let down. “I haven’t really thought about that,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Perhaps in some individual cases. I don’t know any on our side. We’re just here to play baseball.”

Brebbia said he didn’t reach out to Bryant; he didn’t feel the need to over something so minor. Still, the Chicago fan base was stung by the barb at the time. That feeling was fed, in part, by Brebbia’s pseudonymity. Despite two years in the majors, he hadn’t yet established himself in the minds of the casual Cub fan – “that seems 100% normal,” was Brebbia’s assessment.

If they weren’t paying attention before, they likely are now. In 18 1/3 innings pitched across 15 appearances, Brebbia has allowed only seven hits and a single run – a solo homer by Christian Yelich. He’s struck out 21 batters this season and established himself as an essential arm on the right side of the St. Louis bullpen. It’s easy to imagine him facing off with Bryant in a key at bat over the weekend series.

Bygones are bygones, but Brebbia, now in a more prominent role, understands the importance of the rivalry. And he relishes the opportunity to stand up with his teammates.

“With the rivalry that we have, we’re always kind of looking to get the edge on these guys,” Brebbia said. “So that specific moment maybe not, but we definitely don’t forget when people rag on our city a little bit.”

“We’ll be out there defending it.”