Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon had to be separated by teammates after a dugout altercation during the eighth inning of today’s game between the Nationals and Phillies. As the MLB.com video shows, the two exchanged words before Papelbon grabbed Harper by the throat and shoved him towards the dugout wall. The issue apparently stemmed from Papelbon’s displeasure that Harper didn’t run out a fly ball that inning. Somewhat incredibly, Papelbon remained in the game to pitch the ninth inning and was rocked for five runs (two earned) in what ended up as a 12-5 Nationals loss. Here’s some reaction from around the game to this bizarre incident…
- “I’m in the wrong there,” Papelbon said afterwards to reporters, including MLB.com’s Jacob Emert. “I’ve talked to Bryce and told him how we feel and we’re on the same page now, which is good….Sometimes in this game there’s a lot of testosterone and there’s a lot of intensity that spills over, and I think that happened today. For me, I can’t allow that to happen in the middle of a game. You handle that after the games or allow the manager to handle that. In that light of it, I’m wrong.”
- The Nationals have no choice but to part ways with Papelbon in the wake of this embarrassing situation, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman opines. The team may have to end up releasing him outright and eating the $11MM owed to Papelbon for 2016 given that his trade value is at rock-bottom. As Heyman notes, “several – and I mean several – major-league GMs declared at deadline time they wouldn’t ever consider touching Papelbon” due to his reputation as a bad clubhouse personality.
- Matt Williams initially told reporters that the situation was just “a family issue,” though he later clarified that he didn’t see the incident when it actually happened (via tweets from James Wagner of the Washington Post) and only saw footage after his initial talk with the media. Williams stated that he’s “livid about it” and wouldn’t have allowed Papelbon to keep pitching had he initially seen what happened. As you might expect, Williams was heavily criticized for both letting Papelbon stay in the game and then criticized again for not being aware of the altercation.
- Williams is widely expected to be fired in the wake of the Nationals’ rough season, though Heyman reports that the Lerner family considered firing Williams weeks ago but decided to stay the course since the team was still in the pennant race. GM Mike Rizzo will return in 2016 for “one more chance,” though Heyman wonders if the Lerners could or should make a next managerial hire themselves since Rizzo hired Williams.
- The Papelbon/Harper skirmish “will be a symbol of an entire season when everything went wrong and every hidden structural weakness in the franchise was exposed,” Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes. Rather than write off 2015 to injuries and Williams’ managerial tactics, Boswell argues that the Nationals should take the opportunity to examine factors like “organizational culture” to payroll flexibility to even Ted Lerner’s tendency to negotiate free agent contracts directly with agent Scott Boras.