By: Eric He
SAN FRANCISCO – So, there was a fight and a baseball game broke out … or however the saying goes.
The Giants and the Nationals went from 0 to 100 real quick on Monday afternoon in the form of a fabulous eighth inning brawl between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland — one that probably justified sitting through a 3-0 loss for many fans.
Retribution in baseball is a strange thing. In 2014, Strickland allowed two monster home runs to Harper during the NLDS. Two and a half years later, they dueled again, and Strickland exacted revenge – by plunking Harper with a 98 mile-per-hour fastball high in the right hip.
Strickland said the intent was to just pitch Harper inside.
“I’ve left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him, and he’s taken advantage of that,” he said. “Just mostly go inside, and obviously I got in a little bit too far.”
Yeah, just a little.
Harper begged to differ.
“After he did it,” he said, “I was like, ‘That was definitely intentional.’
And when you think someone just threw a 98 mile-per-hour fastball at you on purpose, what do you do?
“You can’t hesitate,” Harper said. “You either go to first base, or you go after him. And I decided to go after him.”
So Harper, who had already been thrown out of eight previous games and isn’t exactly the calmest player in baseball, went after him. He walked toward the mound, dropped his bat, flung his helmet and charged Strickland. They went at it, both of them landing punches before the benches cleared, and all hell broke loose.
“It’s go time,” Strickland said. “You’ve got to protect yourself and stand your own ground.”
Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged the situation looked bad, but defended his pitcher.
“You’ve got Harper throwing a helmet,” he said. “Strick’s got to stand his ground. He’s got no choice there.”
Strickland obviously had no choice with Harper charging at him, wielding a helmet. But Strickland did have a choice as to where that pitch would go, and Bochy talked to him, making sure the hit-by-pitch was not intentional.
“We don’t do things out of the ordinary or from what I want,” Bochy said. “We go out there and try to win ballgames. I needed to talk to him and make sure we’re straight.”
In a rush to get to Strickland, Jeff Samardzija and Michael Morse collided, and Morse went down. A magnificent combination of hair and masculinity enveloped the AT&T Park infield. While Harper looked at Strickland with a death stare, three of Strickland’s teammates literally dragged him off the field, pulling him into the Giants’ dugout.
“There were some big guys tumbling around on the ground,” Buster Posey said. “Mike Morse is as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball.”
It was probably as much fight as the Giants have shown all season, one filled with frustrations and struggles and shutouts such as this one.
Because everyone’s going to remember the fight, but the only thing that really matters – besides the incoming suspensions to Harper and Strickland – is that the Giants lost the game, falling to 22-31, 11 games back of first in the division.
And to add insult to injury, the brawl incited by Strickland cost them a run. Instead of pitching to Harper with two out and ending the eighth, Strickland plunked him. Two straight singles off Strickland’s replacement, George Kontos, yielded another run to the Nationals.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered, because the Giants couldn’t score a run. But it’s rather symbolic that, in the midst of a subpar season, Strickland is still holding a grudge from three years ago when he should be pitching to win every game in order to pull the Giants out of the mud.
Harper spoke to this point.
“It’s so in the past, it’s not even relevant anymore,” he said. “They won the World Series that year [in 2014]. I don’t he should even be thinking about something that 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.”
Morse, who matter-of-factly said he was fine after being plowed over by Samardzija, perhaps said it best: “We lost the game. That’s more important.”