Amid a game that was delayed twice with lighting issues before being suspended when the lights went down a third time, some things get lost in the shuffle. One of those things that got lost may be that Don Mattingly and the Los Angeles Dodgers decided to show some cowardice in the first inning of last night's game. After a two base error on Danny Espinosa's bunt, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate with a base open. The Dodgers called for the old four finger salute, intentionally walking him.
Here are some snippets from Nats twitter after the intentional walk.......
Serious question: Has anybody gotten that kind of treatment (IBB in 1st inning) since Barry Bonds?— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) July 17, 2015
Don Mattingly, ladies and gents.— District Sports Nats (@NationalsDSP) July 17, 2015
One now has to wonder if there is any situation where the Dodgers won't walk Harper.— James O'Hara (@nextyeardc) July 17, 2015
If I were a #Dodgers fan I'd be ashamed of that.— Nationals 101 (@Nationals101) July 17, 2015
are you kidding me— Half St Heart Blog (@HalfStreetHeart) July 17, 2015
Actually, this is not even the first time that this has happened this year. Just two weeks ago, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate against the San Francisco Giants with Yunel Escobar on second base in the first inning. Unlike Mattingly, Giants manager Bruce Bochy at least gave the illusion that he was going to pitch to Harper, but called for the intentional walk after Jake Peavy fell behind 2-0.
Of course, there's a rather significant difference in how those two managers are perceived. After guiding the Giants to three World Series titles in the past five years, it often seems like anything that Bochy touches turns to gold. Mattingly, on the other hand, has drawn his fair share of criticism over the years for questionable and reactionary moves like this one. I mean, does anybody else remember this?
That's former Dodger and current Brave Juan Uribe homering off of former Brave and current National David Carpenter in the 2013 NLDS. It came in the eighth inning of Game 4 with the Dodgers trailing 3-2 and Yasiel Puig on second base. What we unfortunately don't see in this video is Uribe falling behind in the count 0-2 because Mattingly was having him attempt to bunt Puig over to third. He did at least take the bunt off with two strikes (obviously), and Uribe hit a series winning home run in part because he couldn't successfully give away an out as Mattingly wanted him to. Mattingly calling for the bunt was the kind of thing that made many fans want to punch a wall, and he got away with it because his player couldn't execute what he was asking for.
In Friday's game, Mattingly got away with one as well... probably. I certainly realize the temptation to force someone other than Bryce Harper to beat you when you're facing the Nats right now. The Nats depleted lineup doesn't just seem thin, but the handful of guys that are hitting well are all stacked up in the lineup in front of Harper. Still, giving away free baserunners in the first inning of a ballgame is really just asking for trouble. Even though Harper's OBP was an obscene .465 entering play Friday night, he's still more likely to make an out than reach base. That early in the ballgame, it makes little baseball sense to just hand the Nats a baserunner... never mind what it says about the Dodgers spirit of competitiveness.
When Bochy took the uncompetitive approach against Harper, the Nats failed to make him pay initially. Clint Robinson made the final out of that inning. However, Robinson eventually did make the Giants pay after a Harper walk, hitting a two-run homer that provided the difference in the ballgame. On Friday night, the Nats didn't take advantage of Mattingly's decision, as both Robinson and Wilson Ramos struck out to end the threat.
Just as I said when the Giants did it a few weeks ago, we can probably expect more managers to take a (hmmm) creative approach to Harper's at bats the rest of the way. As the season wears on, particularly the other teams that still have something to play for are going to be very careful with Harper. Watching opponents continue to try and avoid letting Harper do damage is going to frustrate many of us as fans the rest of the way.
Of course, there's one thing that can act as an excellent deterrent to future opponents that plan to take the same approach against Harper. When your opponent insists on giving you a free baserunner because they're afraid of letting Harper beat them, it helps when the guy batting behind him brings that free baserunner around to score every once in a while.
Jayson Werth is on a rehab assignment. Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, and Ryan Zimmerman both seem like they're getting close to starting rehab assignments of their own. Get well soon guys.