In the immediate aftermath of the embarrassing dugout altercation between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon, which ended with the veteran reliever choking the Nats' 22-going-on-23-year-old NL MVP candidate, both players characterized the confrontation as the sort of thing that happens at times with brothers/teammates.
After deflecting most of the questions put to him about the incident in a post game interview following the fracas and loss that day, Harper said that Papelbon had apologized to him.
"He apologized, so, you know, whatever, I really don't care," Harper told reporters.
"It's like brothers fighting. That's what happens and you know, hopefully move forward and do what I can for the next six days to have some fun and play the game."
"We're all brothers here, you know," Papelbon explained. "It's just like growing up and you're with these guys more than you are your own family, and I fought with my brothers plenty of times growing up and the next day you give each other a hug and you say, 'Hey look, I'm wrong, you're right and you're right, I'm wrong and let's come back together and keep fighting together and come back next year and keep doing the same thing.'
"I think Bryce understands where I'm coming from and it's squashed and it's good and we're going to move on."
As punishment for their involvement in the altercation, Harper was held out of the lineup the following day and the Nationals handed Papelbon a four-game suspension, which, combined with the three-game suspension he received from MLB for throwing at or near Baltimore Orioles' infielder Manny Machado's head the previous week, effectively ended the right-hander's 2015 campaign.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, who announced Papelbon's suspension the day after the altercation, was asked if he thought the right-hander, acquired from the Phillies in a pre-deadline deal, would be back in the nation's capital in 2016?
"He's under contract," Rizzo said, noting that Papelbon's option for '16 was renegotiated and picked up as part of the deal.
"We're going to evaluate every moving part that we have after the season and we'll make all those decisions once the final out is made in 2015."
While most outside (and some inside) observers assumed that Papelbon's actions likely ended his time in D.C., a report this afternoon from Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell suggests that might not be the case.
Citing a source inside the Nationals, Boswell wrote today that Harper actually reached out to Papelbon, making a phone call to the veteran reliever, "... to make sure their relationship as teammates is functional next season."
"Papelbon and Harper are fine together," the source told the WaPost writer. "Harp just wants to win. All he cares about is that we have a 45-save relief pitcher who’s going to help us."
So Papelbon's staying?
Boswell acknowledges in the article that it could be "part eye-wash to facilitate a Papelbon trade", but he writes later in the article that, "Nats people also say the team’s current plan is to have both Papelbon and Drew Storen in the [back end] of their bullpen again next year with the expectation that they will work out a way to 'play nice together.'"
Storen reportedly requested a trade after the deal to acquire Papelbon was made, since it meant that the Nationals' '09 1st Round pick would be moved into a set-up role with Papelbon as the closer. Can they coexist in the bullpen?
Can Harper and Papelbon put that ugliness behind them if everyone involved thinks it's best for the team? Will D.C. fans ever embrace Papelbon? Will it be a season of the closer getting booed every time he takes the mound?
Having both Papelbon and Storen in the bullpen in 2016 would mean less work for Rizzo and co. as they try to rebuild their relief corps this winter... but really?