WASHINGTON — Giants reliever Hunter Strickland waited nearly three years for retaliation since his last encounter with Bryce Harper.
The Nationals slugger got the best of Strickland in the 2014 NLDS, tagging him for two home runs in the series. On Monday, in their first meeting since, Strickland drilled Harper with a 98-mph fastball in the hip, inciting a benches-clearing brawl which would result in both players being suspended by Major League Baseball.
During Mike Rizzo’s weekly radio address with The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, the Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations publicly denounced Strickland’s actions.
“The simple act of wanting to get revenge for a performance act,” Rizzo said. “You threw a 99-mph fastball, he hit a home run, twice. That’s what happens. To me, it’s a lot different than trying to protect a teammate, or ‘you hit our star, we’re gonna hit your star’ retaliation.”
“This thing is about you hit two home runs against me and you watched one of them, so I stared you down going around the bases on two different instances,” he said. “And then there’s some words exchanged three years ago.”
“To me, there’s ways that you can get away with doing that kind of stuff and this wasn’t one of them,” he said. “To me, when you drill somebody with a 98-mph fastball in the hip for hitting a couple of home runs against you, that’s not the reason. To me, the great teammates are the guys who protect their other teammates, they make a point to impose their kind of justice because something happened with their teammate and they’re trying to protect them.”
“This isn’t protecting anybody,” he specified. “This is just, ‘Hey, you hit two home runs off me three years ago, and I didn’t like it and I’m gonna drill you.’ So, what do you do with that?”
Harper and Strickland have both been suspended since the interview was conducted, Harper for four games and Strickland for six. Prior to that announcement, Rizzo worried about the slippery slope such a situation, without proper response from the league, could create.
“You’ve got a reliever who pitches twice a week in low-leverage situations against the No. 3 hitter in a contender’s lineup,” Rizzo said. “He drills him. They both get suspended. There’s no balance there. What’s to stop a reliever from coming in and hitting every star player and getting him pissed off to where he gets suspended?
“That’s where the league has to step in and really look at the situation, look at the enormity of a complex situation, and really have cooler heads prevail and take into account all the things that happened in this situation.”
Rizzo never anticipated Strickland drilling Harper in that situation, certainly not for something which happened nearly three years ago in a playoff atmosphere.
“I didn’t think about it,” he said. “I didn’t think about that there was going to be any retaliation or anything like that. It was back in ’14. It was a playoff atmosphere. It was baseball. Everybody’s looking at home runs nowadays, and when you give ’em up that far, they deserve to be watched and admired. It was not on my radar.”
“But when he got drilled,” Rizzo said, “it was easy to comprehend what was going on, and the guys react like they react.”
The good players, Rizzo said, handle disputes like this “to where nobody even knows about it,” down in the underbelly of the stadium and out of the public eye.
“This isn’t about making ESPN headlines,” he said. “This is about trying to get your point across and doing what you’re supposed to do and there’s a way of doing that. You want to clear the air with Bryce Harper about something? There’s plenty of ways to do it without doing it on the field and endangering a whole lot of other people.”
“You could tell his teammates weren’t all that fired up about it,” Rizzo added. “[Buster] Posey stayed back there ’till the fight was just about over. Because they know that this is a dangerous situation. Seasons are lost. I’ve seen guys blow out shoulders and out for the season because of these things at the mound.
“And, again, I reiterate that if it’s for a team-worthy cause where you’re protecting somebody or that type of thing, teammates are fine with it, but when it’s a selfish act because you couldn’t get a guy out, that’s where I think a line was crossed.”