Nothing to see here, everything is fine. Look, brothers fight, too. You just don’t see it, so the closer choking the National League MVP is no big deal. It’s in the past.
The above sentiments were recently delivered by most of the Washington Nationals’ players when asked about how last season ended. The year with the World Series demands, the big payroll, the anvil-per-shoulder weight hung on each player. The year with the flop, fight and firings.
Most notable during the dismal closing of a season in which the Nationals finished seven games out of first place was Jonathan Papelbon’s blatant and emphatic choking of Bryce Harper. It prompted a scuffle between the two players and remains the flashback moment of the season as winter settles in.
Left fielder Jayson Werth took the family tact when explaining the event.
“I think what people don’t see is all the stuff that goes on behind closed doors,” Werth said. “In that instance, I think the cameras were on and everybody got to see it, so that’s kind of why it’s a bigger deal. Those things happen.”
Werth’s explanation leads to an easy counter question: Wouldn’t a 10-year veteran know that result would come? Papelbon has been in the major leagues for more than a decade. If he wanted to spar with the franchise heavy, why not do it in the clubhouse?
Papelbon was not available to follow-up on his end-of-season comments about the scuffle. He did not attend Nationals Winterfest because he had plans to be out of the country, according to general manager Mike Rizzo. Deposed closer Drew Storen also had other plans, Rizzo said.
Though Werth’s line of thinking was the one most used at the time and since it happened, there were other explanations.
“I think it would have been weird if nothing like that happened,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We should have been upset and should have been frustrated. We were in first place going into sometime in July, I think, and obviously didn’t play well.
“Any time you have a chance to make the playoffs and kind of let it — I don’t want to say let it slip through your fingers, because the Mets played great baseball, don’t want to take anything away from them, but, you realize how hard it is to get to the playoffs and you don’t get that many chances to do that. So, not that I would say I would condone some of the stuff that happened, obviously, but I think it would have been weird if everyone was in a good mood and happy and high-fiving each other.”
Harper, Tyler Moore and Gio Gonzalez said the incident is in the past, though Harper and Moore encapsulated the year with similar disillusionment.
“Last year’s behind us,” Harper said. “I’m not even worried about last year. It was a terrible year for what we were about. We need to go into this year with the right mentality.”
“It was a very disappointing year last year,” Moore said. “The way it kind of ended up and just got kind of ugly. So, you know, we know this team and organization is built with class and has a lot more class than that, and I think we can bring it back to how it should be.”
The clubhouse is being altered. Younger players such as Trea Turner, Michael Taylor and Joe Ross appear to be anchoring themselves into the next iteration of the franchise.
Starter Jordan Zimmermann left as a free agent and signed with the Detroit Tigers. Shortstop Ian Desmond and reliever Craig Stammen, still free agents, will be gone. Storen could be. All had spent their full career with the Nationals, from draft day to the playoffs.
“I think we had a really good thing for a long time,” Zimmerman said. “We did a lot of things that took this organization to a place that it obviously had never been before and set the bar to where now every year, we expect to contend and we expect to try and win our division, where five or six years ago, you obviously couldn’t say that.
“I think that group will always be special to us, but also to the fans who saw me, Jordan, Ian, they basically saw us grow up. Those things happen. They end. Honestly, maybe it’s good to have a little shakeup sometimes, too. you can always look at it that way. I think we’ll definitely miss those guys. I’ll definitely miss those guys. but, that’s just kind of part of the game.”