There’s history between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland, of course, though only two at bat’s worth and a couple of stares and words before today.
It goes back to the 2014 NLDS matchup between Washington and San Francisco when Harper took the Giants’ hard-throwing right-hander deep twice in two at bats.
They faced each other again for the first time since that postseason this afternoon in AT&T Park in the series opener of the Nationals’ three-game set in San Francisco, and Strickland’s first pitch to the 24-year-old slugger was a 98 mph heater aimed right at Harper’s front hip.
Harper did. not. like. that. He dropped his bat, took a step toward the mound, removed his helmet and went at the pitcher, throwing the helmet “at” Strickland, but losing his grip on it, missing wildly, then he started throwing punches at the pitcher, who responded in kind.
Both players landed a few, both benches cleared quickly and a full-on donnybrook ensued.
Hunter Strickland drilled Bryce Harper and punched him in the face when Harper charger him pic.twitter.com/7QNliRl55K— That Dude (@cjzer0) May 29, 2017
It got ugly in the scrum, but apparently everyone escaped with minimal damage.
Harper said he had a scrape on his arm that he thought was actually from when teammate Anthony Rendon tried to pull him away.
Harper and Strickland were, obviously, ejected, but they were the only ones tossed.
So was it intentional on Strickland’s part? Of course it was. But what did he say?
“I’ve left the ball over the plate a couple times to him, and he’s taken advantage of that, so just mostly go inside and obviously I got it in a little bit too far,” Strickland said.
Asked if it was a retaliation for Harper’s two home runs, and the fact that Harper did take a good look at them, Strickland said he could see how people might think that.
“I can see how that kind of stands in people’s minds, but that’s the past, like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple times to him, he’s taken advantage of that, so obviously I’d rather miss in than over the plate.”
Did Harper think it was intentional?
“That’s probably the first time that I was certain that somebody was going to try and throw at me,” Harper told reporters.
“I wasn’t really going up there thinking that, but after he did it, I was like, ‘That was definitely intentional.’”
“That was clearly — it wasn’t throwing inside,” Dusty Baker said, responding indirectly to Strickland’s explanation.
“That’s throw it at a spot where you can’t really get out of the way and move.”
“It’s unfortunate, yeah,” Giants’ skipper Bruce Bochy said. “You have an incident like this, it looks bad, it does. There’s no question about that. And Harper gets hit, I know — you’re looking at a guy — he’s given up some home runs, he’ll tell you he was trying to come in, he didn’t want to make a mistake there, but it looks bad.”
“You had two guys that probably don’t care for each other much,” Bochy continued.
“So it’s unfortunate, it is. It was a pretty good pile, so we’re probably lucky somebody on either side didn’t get hurt in that situation.”
Asked about his decision to charge the mound and throw punches, Harper said he had two choices, and he decided to go to the mound.
“A baseball is a weapon. And to be able to use that to his advantage, I guess that’s just what he wanted to do in that situation,” Harper said.
“You never want to get suspended or anything like that, but sometimes you’ve got to go and get him. You can’t hesitate. You either go to first base, of you go after him and I decided to go after him.”
Strickland said he didn’t think Harper would come at him.
“I didn’t expect that, but it’s part of the game that’s what he decided to do.”
“We were ahead 2-0, two outs, nobody on base, that’s a prime time to hit somebody if you’re going to hit them and it looked like it was intentional to me,” Baker said.
As for Harper’s decision to charge the mound?
“What’s a man supposed to do?” Baker asked rhetorically. “He’s not a punching bag and he’s human, with emotions. I know he took him deep in the playoffs a couple times, and he probably took exception to that. Baseball is a game where you don’t forget and you can hold grudges for a long, long time and that was my take on it.”
Harper said he thought three years was a long time to hold a grudge, especially when Strickland and the Giants beat the Nationals in the 2014 NLDS, and went on to win the World Series.
“It’s so in the past, it’s not even relevant anymore,” Harper said. “They won the World Series that year. I don’t think he should even be thinking about what happened in the first round. He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night. I don’t know why he did it, or what he did it for, but I guess it happens.”
What happens next? MLB will probably have something to say sooner rather than later.
The Nationals went on to win the game, 3-0, and Baker said it was important that his team stayed focused and took the series opener.
“We’re not really here to brawl, we’re here to win the game,” he said. “But we’re not here to really take any stuff either, so, like I said, most of my teams I’ve had, we don’t start anything, but we don’t take nothing.”