WASHINGTON — The reaction to Jonathan Papelbon choking out Bryce Harper on live television Sunday is sure to be wide-ranging, as the Nationals decide how to minimize damages to a contentious clubhouse as they proceed forward in a lost season.
ESPN’s Karl Ravech, John Kruk, Tim Kurkjian and Aaron Boone weighed in on the incident several hours after it occurred on “Baseball Tonight,” and all appeared to back Harper.
“If somebody is going to speak to Bryce Harper there, it should either be the manager or a respected veteran player on the team, not a guy who showed up on July 31, and is a pitcher as opposed to an everyday player,” Kurkjian said.
“And since Papelbon showed up — and this is not all his fault, obviously — they’ve gone from three games ahead, basically, to 9.5 behind,” he said. “If I were Jonathan Papelbon, I wouldn’t say a word to anyone, especially after being involved in an incident with Manny Machado that got him suspended, even though he’s appealing here. So this is a case where the wrong person spoke up, and certainly at the wrong place and the wrong time.”
Papelbon apologized for the incident after the game, telling reporters he spoke with Harper and they’re “on the same page now.”
Harper confirmed Papelbon’s apology, adding, “I really don’t care. I mean these next six days, keep doing what I’m doing. It’s like brothers fighting.”
However, when asked if he had ever fought with a teammate before, Harper replied, “Usually fighting the other team.”
“[Papelbon] said we’re on the same page,” Ravech said. “Clearly, Harper’s words after indicate they’re not close to the same page, and it wouldn’t surprise most people if they told Papelbon not to show up for the rest of the season.”
“I think Bryce Harper’s not at fault here,” Kruk said. “Look, Bryce is a very emotional player. We all know that. And the last thing you want to hear when you miss a pitch you think you should have hit, and believe me, he’s hit enough of them this year to know, the last thing you want to hear is anyone saying anything to you about the way you played or the way you participated in that at-bat, as far as not hustling.
“The really last thing you want to hear is from a relief pitcher,” he continued. “Because those are the last guys that should say anything to anyone. Now, if it’s Mariano Rivera, a Goose Gossage, someone like that, okay, you live with what they say and you move on. But not a guy like Jonathan Papelbon, and not another reliever, to my knowledge.”
Kruk added Papelbon’s lucky teammates jumped in to separate them, “Because that’s one strong young man that he was tussling with. And I think if they let him go, we might have saw one of the guys, wearing No. 34, the young one, getting a little bit ahead of Jonathan Papelbon in that dispute.”
Kruk went on to say the last thing the Nationals want is for a late-season acquisition like Papelbon to come in and disrupt the clubhouse and “mess with your best player.”
“You don’t mess with your franchise, and Jonathan Papelbon crossed the line when he messed with the franchise,” he said. “If it was Ryan Zimmerman who went over and quietly said, ‘Hey Bryce, c’mon man, we need a little better effort,’ that’s one thing.
“But to call him out with the cameras on you, and the way he did it in a loud, vocal way — from what it appears watching it on tape — that’s just ridiculous. It needs to stop.”
“You just don’t choke people,” Ravech said. “You don’t do it.”
Boone suggested the incident may be indicative of a club busting at the seams, and could speak to a much larger, unavoidable issue.
“No, again, I think [Papelbon’s] in the wrong,” he said. “I don’t think it was that egregious what [Harper] did. But I think the bigger point in all this is now: Take a look at the Washington Nationals and some of the significant parts they’re going to lose, the disaster that has become this bullpen in the second half of the season.”
“We’re talking about a franchise that we view as a yearly contender for a world championship that may be going through a blowing this thing up completely and semi-starting over, because they’ve got a lot of problems in there to fix,” he said.
Nationals manager Matt Williams provided little additional information on the matter, saying after the game there was clearly “a lot of testosterone flowing” and, “this is a family issue and we’ll deal with it that way.”
When asked why Papelbon was sent back to the mound to pitch the ninth inning, Williams replied, “At the time, it’s a tie game. He’s our closer.”
“And the manager, sorry, has to do more than ‘this is an in-house issue’ when everyone can see one player choking another,” Kurkjian said. “We’re going to need more from the manager after the game than just that.
“And sorry, I don’t understand how Papelbon pitches in the ninth inning there after choking a player on his own team. And don’t tell me ‘he’s the closer’ on the team when they were eliminated yesterday, you have all sorts of other guys in the bullpen. I’m not sure I follow that, either.”