- - Tuesday, May 30, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

So why did Hunter Strickland appear to go rogue and hit Bryce Harper on his own – without, apparently, the support of his San Francisco Giants teammates?

Why? He probably figured, “This is the Washington Nationals. I don’t need any help. What are they going to do?”

The National have earned that pacifist reputation over the years, but Monday in San Francisco, Harper told not just the Giants, but the rest of baseball — the Nationals are no longer Gandhi apostles.

So what if it cost a four-game suspension, handed down Tuesday by MLB for Harper. The Nationals told the rest of baseball: You come at us, we’re coming back at you.

Finally.

After Strickland, who earned a six-game suspension for his part in the ruckus, planted a purpose pitch on Harper’s hip in the eighth inning of Washington’s 3-0 win over San Francisco at AT&T Park, Harper charged the mound, threw his helmet in anger and began wailing away at the Giants relief pitcher, triggering an un-Nationals like brawl.


SEE ALSO: Nationals’ Bryce Harper, Giants’ Hunter Strickland suspended after brawl


Supposedly, the purpose of this pitch was Strickland’s payback for Harper hitting two home runs off the Giants reliever in the 2014 National League Division Series — a series the Giants won in four games.

“That was three years ago, a thousand days I guess you could say,” Harper told reporters. “I don’t know why he’s thinking about it. He’s got a World Series ring. It’s on his finger. He can look at it every single night he wants to. There’s (no reason) to be thinking about the first round, because we were out and they were playing Kansas City in the World Series.”

On Tuesday, MLB handed down the suspensions: four games for Harper, six for Strickland.

It was no accident, though, that this seemingly foolish fight came against San Francisco. In that same 2014 series, the Giants showed little regard for the Nationals toughness. They called them out before the series even started. Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson said. “Obviously, they have a talented group over there, there’s no question. They have some great pitching. But, come playoff time, talent can take you a long ways, but what do you have between your legs?”

The Giants rode the Nationals mercilessly from the bench in that series. Ironically, the lead instigator from the bench in that series, Madison Bumgarner, was sidelined from Monday’s fight, held back because of his place on the disabled list, recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered last month in a dirt bike accident.

He wasn’t the only Giant who was missing in action. Catcher Buster Posey stood and watched the action, and it appeared that, for the most part, Strickland, who took a couple of good shots from Harper, was on his own out there.

Maybe the Giants thought Strickland was wrong for his payback pitch on a three-year-old foolish grudge. Or maybe they were just surprised that Harper and the Nationals fought back. That hasn’t been the book on this team around the league for several years — dating back to 2013, when the Atlanta Braves used Harper for target practice, hitting him twice in two different series.

The Nationals pointed some fingers, which the Braves laughed off, and then, when Stephen Strasburg finally felt compelled to do something — against his manager Davey Johnson’s wishes — it turned into a fiasco, with Strasburg hitting Justin Upton in the first inning after Jason Heyward homered, and then seemingly lost control and bizarrely threw back-to-back pitches behind Andrelton Simmons. Both benches had been warned before the start of the game, so Strasburg and Johnson were ejected, while the Braves enjoyed a good laugh.

The word was out — the Nationals were soft.

Harper delivered a message Monday in San Francisco that was long overdue — no more turning the other cheek.

“We’re not here to brawl,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker told reporters. “We’re here to win the game. But we’re not here to take any stuff either. Like I said, most teams I’ve had we don’t start anything, but we don’t take nothing.”

Whether you agree with this culture of baseball or not, it is their culture. It may be changing, but until that happens, you don’t want your team to be the lone conscientious objector.

As the Nationals march through the league this season, there may be non-believers along the way. Next time, Bryce, work on the helmet throw a little bit.

You don’t want the message to get confused.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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