Harper, Strickland rumble as Nats blank Giants

Down two runs in the eighth inning against one of baseball’s best teams, the Giants were locked in the heart of a long battle to climb out of a deep divisional hole.

But Hunter Strickland a different game in mind.

In Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS in 2014, Bryce Harper took Strickland deep. Harper milked his celebration after the Game 4 blast and, apparently, that stuck with the flame-throwing righty.

Two outs down, Strickland plunked Harper in the side with a 98 mph fastball. Harper was on the same page, and charged the mound. He hurled his helmet and the pair threw punches while the benches cleared to break the fight. Strickland and Harper were ejected.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Perhaps lost in the post-fight excitement: Harper’s pinch runner Brian Goodwin ended up scoring the Nats’ third run, said Bruce Bochy:

“It’s a 2-0 game and it cost us a run, too, by the way. … That could have played a huge role.”

Bochy said he had a talk with Strickland after the game, articulating that that’s not how the team wanted to play, especially amid a skid the team seems to always be on the brink of breaking through. The Giants lost 3-0 to the Washington Nationals and, luckily, no one to injury Monday.

Strickland stood ready to face the camera lights at his locker after the game. He was asked if the plunk was a long holdover response to 2014:

I can see how that kind of stands in people’s minds. But that’s the past… Like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. So, obviously I’d rather miss in than over the plate.”

Bochy acknowledged that Strickland had to defend himself with an angry guy coming at him, despite the optics:

“Doesn’t look good … Guy gets hit, Strick’s gotta stand his ground and he has no choice there.”

Strickland didn’t seem to have much remorse, he was ready when he saw Harper charge:

“It’s go time. You have to protect yourself and stand your ground.”

Slo-mo replays show Harper taking a flat-palmed slap to the face, followed by a couple missed thrusts with Harper eventually landing a solid punch to Strickland’s face. He was ok, though, he smiled:

“I feel great. I’m 100 percent.”

His demeanor was in stark contrast to the last moment the crowd, thousands watching on television, saw him as Hunter PenceGeorge Kontos and Mac Williamson literally dragged their teammate into the dugout. Kontos joked that his arm kind of hurt pulling Strickland off. Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija said they’re ok after colliding in the scrum. Morse seemed confused that reporters even asked:

“We lost the game and that’s what’s more important.”

Here’s a short list of smart Giants that did not get involved:

Bumgarner’s decision to walk away, it turns out, was smarter than at first glance. Pence, who’s on the DL, may face suspension for going onto the field. MLB rules state that any player on the list “is allowed to enter the playing surface at any time or for any purpose during the game.”

The catcher typically tries to quell a brewing brawl before punches are thrown, which Posey didn’t do either. Based on his responses post-game, it seemed as though he didn’t want to get involved in a fiery fight that escalated quickly:

“There’s some big guys tumbling on the ground. Mike Morse is as big a guy as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pin ball.”

Lost in the shuffle, too, was the actual game: Seven prior innings of relatively calm, low scoring baseball, said Bochy:

“What I think got lost was Moore. he pitched well against a tough lineup.”

The Memorial Day matchup featured the most lethal offense in the National League against the worst. A pitching staff that’s put together a 2.95 ERA at AT&T Park versus a starting rotation that held a 2.27 ERA over the last 47 innings.

All of that mashed together to produce a pitchers’ duel. Moore had some his best stuff, noted Posey:

“Good changeup and the cutter was as good as I’ve seen it.”

Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nats (31-19) the only run they’d need, smashing a solo shot off Moore to lead off the second. They’d tack another one on in the sixth on a Zimmerman single and Dan Murphy double off the bricks.

Still, Moore (L, 2-6, 4.98 ERA) didn’t walk a single National over his seven inning outing. He was in that groove:

“I never try to walk anybody, so to be able to get into a rhythm, it’s about having command of every pitch.”

Tanner Roark (W, 5-2, 3.86 ERA), with offense to back him, out-shined Moore, shutting out the Giants through seven innings of his own.

Roark had made an already vulnerable Giants offense revert to its positively anemic tendencies. Ill-fated attempts to be aggressive on the base paths, and at times at the plate, led to broken rallies and squelched opportunities that were already far and few between.

Justin Ruggiano got two hits, but was caught stealing on his first. Christian Arroyo got a leadoff double in the third, breaking a 21 at-bat hitless streak. But Mac Williamson, eighth in the lineup, failed to make even a productive out and struck out swinging. Brandon Belt, who singled, was caught stealing with one out and Posey ahead in the count.

The Giants loaded the bases in the top of the eighth inning against the bullpen. Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelly when Joe Panik walked and Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford singled with two outs. Ruggiano flew out to end the Giants’ most substantial threat.

Roark moved to 4-0 lifetime as a starter against the Giants (22-31) with a 1.00 ERA.

It’s a bit confusing as to why Strickland felt the need to re-hash three-year-old beef that still resulted in his team winning a World Series. His teammates had his back, they articulated, and some were smiling as Strickland answered questions post game.

Some may say these altercations are good for baseball, a sport that is often chided for being too slow and boring. Given the timing, given his team’s situation, Bochy didn’t seem too pleased that the day’s entertainment could have come at his team’s expense.

Up Next

Jeff Samardzija — who barrelled into Michael Morse in the fight scrum — will take on Gio Gonzalez in game two of this series.

Notes:

Eduardo Nunez missed the game with concussion symptoms. He had tests after the game but he nor Bochy had results. Nunez said he was punched in the head by R.A. Dickey on a scoring slide home in Sunday’s game, which has impaired his vision.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.