Pitchers, like elephants, don’t forget
SAN FRANCISCO — One after another, Washington Nationals players expressed dismay that San Francisco Giants reliever Hunter Strickland would hit Bryce Harper with a pitch in apparent revenge for a dispute that took place three years ago.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker knows better. He has been around professional baseball for five decades and is aware some grudges last nearly that long.
So when Strickland drilled Harper on the upper thigh with a 98 m.p.h. fastball in the eighth inning of Washington’s 3-0 National League baseball victory, inciting a brawl, it didn’t take Baker long to make the connection.
Baker may not have been a member of the Nationals franchise during the 2014 NL division series, when Harper twice homered off of Strickland and yelled at him after the second blast, but he understood the genesis of the melee that suddenly erupted at AT&T Park on Sunday.
“I know he (Harper) took him deep in the playoffs a couple of times. (Strickland) probably took exception to that,” Baker said. “Baseball is a game where you don’t forget and you can hold grudges for a long, long time.”
It was announced Harper will be suspended four games for his role in the Memorial Day fight, while Strickland will receive a six-game ban.
Strickland had not faced Harper since the Nats star crushed a gametying home run in the seventh inning of Game 4 of that NLDS, a game the Giants went on to win to claim the series on the way to their third World Series championship in five seasons.
It didn’t take long for the hardthrowing right-hander to reintroduce himself to the 2015 NL MVP, firing his first pitch to Harper just below his hip. Harper immediately barked at Strickland, pointing at him with his bat. When Strickland didn’t back down, Harper flung his helmet at him — missing badly — and charged the mound.
Both players exchanged blows for a few seconds before Strickland was knocked to the ground by an onrushing wave of players and coaches from both sides, amid much pushing and shoving. Both players were ejected.
Harper said he didn’t go to the plate expecting any animosity from Strickland.
“I don’t want to go into a baseball game trying to fight somebody, especially when it’s in the past, so in the past it’s not even relevant anymore,” Harper said. “They won the World Series that year and I don’t even think he should be thinking about what happened in the first round. He should be thinking about wearing the ring home every single night. I don’t know why he did it or what he did it for.”
Strickland, who had hit just four batters in 136 1/3 innings in his fouryear career before the pitch to Harper, said his intention was merely to go inside. He acknowledged that’s not what it looked like, given their encounters from three years ago, the only times they had ever faced each other.
“I can see how that kind of stands in people’s minds, but that’s the past,” Strickland said. “Like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. So obviously I’d rather miss in than over the plate.”
It took three large teammates to drag the agitated Strickland off the field after the fracas, which featured a brief toe-to-toe between the combatants, both landing glancing blows to each other’s face.
Harper was ushered out to the dugout by teammate Ryan Zimmerman, who was in the on-deck circle when all hell broke loose.
Harper, a four-time all-star before turning 24, has a reputation for brashness earned both through his words and his play. His style has made him a polarizing figure in the game.
“You can’t blame Bryce for what he did,” said Zimmerman. “I wouldn’t really enjoy getting hit for something ... I don’t really know what he deserved to get hit for.”
Jeff Samardzija of the San Francisco Giants goes after Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. Harper charged the mound after being hit by a pitch from Hunter Strickland, triggering a brawl Monday.