Let’s be clear: this was not retribution. This was a vendetta.
It was the top of the eighth inning in a 2-0 ballgame between the Nationals and the Giants at AT&T Park. Hunter Strickland was on the mound for the Giants. He got two quick outs in the inning, and then Bryce Harper came to the plate.
Harper has faced Strickland twice, both times in the 2014 NLDS. Here’s what happened in Game 1:
Then again, in Game 4 of the series:
That was three years ago. Derek Jeter was still playing baseball. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Prince were still alive. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Giants won the World Series that year.
Hunter Strickland seems to be the kind of man to hold a grudge like the Hatfields and McCoys, because in yesterday’s game, in his first pitch to Harper since that 2014 NLDS, this happened.
Strickland hits Harper. Harper charges mound. Chaos ensues. And for what?
Well, for one, it added to the Nationals lead. With two outs, Harper’s HBP put a runner on first for the Nats (Brian Goodwin came on to replace the ejected Harper). Singles from Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy brought home Goodwin. Strickland’s bloodlust hurt his team. Simple as that.
If you want more proof of Strickland’s folly on this, look at Buster Posey’s reaction in the previous video. Catchers normally jump into the fray to protect their pitcher. Posey did his best Switzerland impression, and barely got to the scrum before it was broken up. You think he’s happy with Strickland’s childish behavior?
And then we come to Harper. Pundits and managers alike came to his defense, suggesting that he has the right to defend himself. I’ve never been hit by a 95+ mph fastball, but I can imagine it’s not fun.
You know what else isn’t fun? Being the Washington Nationals and trying to play without Bryce Harper for 5? 10? 15? Maybe even 20 games? He’s been a huge part of their hot start. You think his absence (which will be coming, I’m sure) won’t hurt the Nats?
There’s no point in playing the blame game here. Strickland should never have thrown that pitch. Harper should never have charged the mound. The problem here isn’t individual idiocy, but rather the environment that baseball’s unwritten rules have created.
A batter slides a bit high? Admires his home run just a bit too long? Hell, even swing on a 3-0 pitch with a five-run lead? Welcome to bean-ball city.
The problem with self-policing unwritten rules is just that; they’re self-policing. They require adherence and respect from all players involved. If you bean someone, so say the “unwritten rules,” you better have a good reason. You are judge and jury, and if you feel slighted it’s your responsibility to be the executioner.
Strickland felt slighted by Harper from an incident that happened three years ago. Harper watched his home run for just a bit too long. So he had to pay the price. Statute of limitations be damned.
When the police don’t respect the rules they’re supposed to be enforcing, the entire system breaks down. That’s exactly what happened on Memorial Day in AT&T Park; a breakdown of baseball’s unwritten rules. Hunter Strickland crossed a line in pursuit of a foolish vendetta, and Bryce Harper followed him right down into the cesspit.
The environment of “unwritten rules,” of lawless retribution, created the brawl on Monday evening. The Giants walked away with another game in the loss column, and the Nats walked away planning for a week (at least) without their superstar right fielder.
And Major League Baseball? Hopefully they walk away from this realizing they need to do something about the nonsense that is the unwritten rulebook. Because if Hunter Strickland can fire a 95+ mph fastball at a guy for a perceived slight from three years ago, how can we tell what’s allowed and what’s not anymore?