Pitch­ers, like ele­phants, don’t for­get

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JORGE L. OR­TIZ USA To­day Sports

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.”

THEARON W. HEN­DER­SON, GETTY IMAGES

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.

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