Denard Span was on second base with two out in the seventh after a leadoff single and a wild pitch on the second straight strikeout by Cincinnati Reds' right-hander Jumbo Diaz. With the score 4-2 in the home team's favor, Tony Cingrani came out of the bullpen to face Washington Nationals' outfielder Bryce Harper and greeted the Nats' 22-year-old slugger with a 93 mph fastball to the middle of Harper's back.
Harper took the HBP on the numbers and took his time making his way to first base, staring out at the mound and directing words at the reliever.
Reds' first baseman Joey Votto eventually got involved in a conversation with Harper too and continued talking to him as Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate.
The situation de-escalated after that with Zimmerman lining out to end the inning.
Nationals' manager Matt Williams was asked for his thoughts on the pitch to the back after what ended up a 5-2 Nats' loss.
"It's part of the game," the former major leaguer told reporters. Harper stayed in the game and went on to single in his final at bat, sending a 102.2 mph fastball from Reds' closer Aroldis Chapman to center with one down.
"You do get hit with pitches," Williams said. "I like the fact that he rallied against Chapman in the last inning, it shows me something."
Bryce Harper's base hit last night vs Aroldis Chapman's 102.2 MPH fastball was the hardest pitch in PITCHfx era anyone has gotten a hit on.— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 30, 2015
Former major league pitcher Jeff Brantley in discussing the pitch to Harper's back on the Reds television broadcast, and where it hit Harper, said he understood that, "you think you got hit on purpose," and speculating about Cingrani's intentions, he said [jokingly?], "... it's a lot easier to walk a guy that way than it is to throw those four balls."
Cingrani told reporters that Harper should have just jogged to first:
Cingrani on Harper HBP: "He should have jogged, but what are you going to do? Be a baseball player. Sorry I hit you, run." #reds— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) May 30, 2015
Harper downplayed the chatter with Votto when he spoke to the press after the game:
Votto, as quoted by MLB.com's Bill Ladson, declined to elaborate on what he and Harper discusssed.
"I don't remember. I don't what you're talking about," Votto said, smiling, when asked about the conversation with Harper. "I really like him as a hitter. What a great player. I bet on Bryce. Man, he's doing great."
Votto sidestepped question on what he said to Harper at 1B. #reds— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) May 30, 2015
"No one likes to get hit," Reds' skipper Bryan Price told reporters after the game. "If you bring in a relief pitcher and the first pitch comes out and it hits the first hitter in the back, nobody is going to feel too good about that. Your immediate emotion is probably to think that it's intentional, certainly we're not going to bring in a lefty to hit him and then have to face Zimmerman with a lefty/righty matchup. So, yeah, guys get pissed when they get hit, I get it. But I don't think it will escalate, it would have to from on their side to do something and certainly we weren't trying to hit anybody in that situation."