WASHINGTON — With the game on the line Saturday afternoon, Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper watched a 2-2 pitch slide wide of the outside corner of the plate.
Home plate umpire Mike Winters, set up over the inside corner of the plate, saw it differently, ringing up Harper for strike three. Harper went ballistic, yelling, gesturing, ripping off his helmet and throwing it at Winters’ feet.
The next step was predictable:
Sounding quietly resigned, MASN broadcaster Bob Carpenter lamented: “Well Bryce [Harper] is gone, we know that. The helmet, the bat, then Mike Winters ejected him immediately. One out, bottom of the 10th.”
Color commentator F.P. Santangelo wryly added: “Pitch track the fastball to Harper for strike three, he had a legitimate argument, but maybe the helmet toss was a tad excessive.”
After the game, a much more subdued Harper refused to back down from his position.
“When you’re in a game like that, 4-4 in the 10th, you get to a 2-2 count, he throws a pitch off the plate. They said it was a strike, which was a ball,” Harper said quietly. “I was reading it all the way in–if you look at the tape, I was looking down at the ball–the whole way into the glove and it was off the plate.
“I could possibly see one more pitch, maybe hit a homer or double or walk. I could even strike out. I just wanted to see that last pitch and it never got there. So, it just shouldn’t happen–just bad behind there. It’s just not a strike.”
Harper speaks from a position of confidence that his manager, Dusty Baker, discussed before the game. In the 13 games heading into Saturday’s action, Harper was hitting .400 with five doubles, two home runs, 15 RBIs and eight multi-hit games.
But even with the recent hot streak, Harper has a long way to go to get his 2016 numbers to resemble his 2015 National League MVP campaign.
“Time is running out on having a good season. Every player has been at that point where it’s like, ‘Oh, I really have to go,'” Baker explained, specifically referencing Harper. “The at-bats are down to, probably under 200, for sure. As much as he walks, it’s probably down to 150-125.
“When the time is running out like this to have a pretty good year, every at-bats seems more important than earlier. Earlier, it’s like 1/500th of importance, but now it’s like one in ever 130.”
After the game, Baker was supportive of his player, noting that this is not uncommon for this time of year.
“Frustration usually mounts over a period of time. It wasn’t the frustration, I don’t think, with Mike Winters, it was frustration over a period of time,” Baker said. “Everybody blows up from time to time, just glad that we had [Chris] Heisey, the extra player that I could put in there.
“These things happen, and it happens this time of year. Tempers are short, it’s hot, we’ve played a lot of games and we’ve been around the same people for a long period of time. This is the time of year when tempers do flare up.”
Acknowledging Harper’s success at the plate, hitting his third opposite field double in the last three games, Baker expressed confidence in his stretch run to the playoffs.
“He’s been heating up,” Baker said. “We know the best is yet to come.”