Strickland’s purpose pitch no aid to what ails the Giants this season

May 29, 2017

MLB, San Francisco Giants

AP17149830806227

By Morris Phillips

With 2017 in jeopardy, Hunter Strickland decided that revisiting 2014 was a necessary detour.

A selfish act?  From the majority of perspectives, it was just that.

“We were ahead 2-0, two outs and nobody on base,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said of the eighth inning incident in Monday’s Nats-Giants’ game in which Strickland hit Bryce Harper in the hip with a 98 mph fastball. “I mean, that’s the prime time to hit somebody if you’re going to hit them, it looked like it was intentional to me,” he said.

Strickland hadn’t faced Harper since the 2014 NLDS in which he surrendered two home runs to Harper, part of his star crossed post-season that year in which he allowed eight home runs, but walked away like the rest of the Giants with a World Series championship.  One of the two home runs was a splash hit in which Harper stood at the plate while his ball flirted with the foul pole, then circled the bases with a couple of glares at Strickland.

After Monday’s game, the Giants’ reliever claimed he needed to pitch the Nationals’ star inside.  Leaving balls over the plate, as Strickland noted, didn’t work in 2014. With Harper having a big season to date, it was unlikely to work in 2017.

“I went inside,” Strickland said.  “Obviously, I went in a little too far.”

What happened next was just plain dangerous. Harper ran up, wielding his helmet as if he might fling it at Strickland.  The pitcher turned away, then braced for the punches, while unleashing some of his own. Teammates from both sides rushed in, Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija the quickest, so fast they collided at the exact spot of the punches being thrown.

At the moment prior to the area in front of the mound becoming ground zero, catcher Buster Posey stood motionless at the plate, before a belated run to the scrum. Was Posey complicit in Strickland’s act? Apparently not.

“It looks bad, it does,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Harper gets hit and you look at a guy who’s given up some home runs, and he’ll tell you that he was trying to come in. You don’t want to make a mistake there.  You have two guys who don’t care for each other too much.”

Bochy would add that he spoke to his pitcher following the game, likely regarding Strickland’s intent, but the contents of that conversation, the manager said, would remain private.

“We don’t do things from what I ordinarily want us to do,” Bochy said. “We’re trying to win ballgames. I needed to talk to him and make sure we’re straight with some things.”

On Monday, winning took a back seat, this time to the throwing incident. That back seat continues to get further back, the Giants now stand 22-31, 11 games off the pace of the division-leading Rockies.  One game removed from the season being one-third complete, the Giants have a record and positioning that could make the remaining two-thirds meaningless.

Any recent signs point to a Giants’ resurgence? Not really. The Giants appeared less comfortable Monday in their own ballpark than the Nationals, who traveled cross-country in between consecutive day games. Tanner Roark shut down the Giants on six hits, and it’s not the first time the underrated Roark has done that.

Could Strickland’s call to arms serve as a rallying call?

Probably not.

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