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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

Game in a nutshell: Gio Gonzalez was lights-out for seven innings, striking out 10 to take over the MLB lead in that department. But the bigger story might have been the sudden outburst of power from the Nationals' often-lackluster lineup. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady all homered, and LaRoche later added a clutch, three-run double to give the Nationals bullpen a nice cushion. Beleaguered closer Henry Rodriguez then finished it off in the ninth, earning his ninth save in 12 tries.
Hitting highlight: It seems like we write this every other night, but it bears repeating yet again: Where would the Nationals be right now without Adam LaRoche? The veteran first baseman delivered yet again, homering in the bottom of the sixth and then lacing a three-run double in the bottom of the seventh to break the game open. The 1,000th hit of LaRoche's career earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 25,942 and gave him 29 RBI for the season. That's tied with Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez for third in the National League.

Pitching highlight: The Nationals knew they were getting a good, young hurler in Gio Gonzalez, but not even GM Mike Rizzo could have expected the left-hander to be the best strikeout pitcher in baseball. With 10 Ks in seven innings against the Pirates, Gonzalez raised his season total to 60, one better than the Yankees' CC Sabathia for the major-league lead. If there was one thing to nitpick about Gio's start, though, it was the two walks he issued to light-hitting Yamaico Navarro and Rod Barajas. Both Pittsburgh batters came around to score after drawing their free passes, a good lesson for Gonzalez in the importance of keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Key stat: The only qualifying shortstop in the National League with a higher slugging percentage than Ian Desmond's .447 mark is the Cardinals' Rafael Furcal.

Up next: Jordan Zimmermann looks to even his record at 3-3 when he faces Pirates right-hander James McDonald in the finale of this abbreviated, two-game series. First pitch on Thursday is at 7:05 p.m.

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Even after two-plus years, Hunter Strickland couldn't forget last meeting with Bryce Harper

Even after two-plus years, Hunter Strickland couldn't forget last meeting with Bryce Harper

965 days. That's the amount of time that separated the second time Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland faced each other on an MLB diamond and the third one.

In that second matchup, which came back in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS, Harper launched a game-tying home run in the seventh inning off of Strickland. Harper also hit a blast off Strickland in Game 1 of the same series.

Well, apparently, the Giants reliever still hasn't gotten over his last time he saw the Nationals star, because on Monday, the right-hander plunked the MVP candidate with a fastball the first chance he had since their postseason encounters almost three years ago.

Ironically enough, after San Francisco beat Washington in the NLDS, Strickland told the SF Chronicle how he would have to "have a short memory" on the mound for the rest of the playoffs and keep his composure after the home runs. Judging by this video, however, it's clear that Strickland's had some issues moving on:

RELATED: MORE ON THE HARPER VS. STRICKLAND BRAWL

When you look back at that Game 4 meeting, you'll see Harper pause at home plate and watch his moonshot after sending it into the McCovey Cove, then glare at Strickland a few times as he rounds the bases. Some will call what No. 34 did a violation of baseball's unwritten rules, but it was a huge moment on a huge stage, which contributed to Harper's emotional reaction.

The fact of the matter is that plenty of pitchers have moved on from much more egregious things in much shorter time frames, but for whatever reason, Strickland just wasn't able to.

Afterward, Harper explained why he thinks the hit by pitch should've never happened.

But Ryan Zimmerman had the best quote of all when talking about the sequence:

The veteran is right on with that statement. Harper was better than Strickland back in 2014, so Strickland felt the need to tag Harper first before Harper had a chance to tag him again on Monday. Essentially, the pitcher followed the, "If you can't beat him, bean him" strategy.

965 days is a long time to get over a grudge. For Hunter Strickland, though, 965 days still wasn't enough.

MORE: 10 INSANE BALLPARK FOODS YOU CAN EAT IN 2017

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Bryce Harper charges mound, throws punches after Hunter Strickland hits him with pitch

Bryce Harper charges mound, throws punches after Hunter Strickland hits him with pitch

In their two previous meetings, Bryce Harper took Hunter Strickland deep. Very deep, in fact.

So in their third encounter, Strickland made sure that Harper wouldn't have the chance to do it again. 

RELATED: HERE'S THE HISTORY BETWEEN BRYCE HARPER AND HUNTER STRICKLAND

In the top of the eighth inning of Monday's Nationals-Giants game, the San Francisco reliever went after Washington's best player on the first pitch and hit him in the thigh with a 98 MPH fastball.

Harper — without hesitation — responded by charging the mound and throwing his helmet at Strickland, and the two then squared off and exchanged punches.

Here is the wild video of the whole sequence:

Harper and Strickland were, of course, ejected after initiating one of the best MLB fights in recent memory. This was the pair's first time facing each other since Harper's two home runs in the 2014 NLDS, meaning Strickland's had a long time to get over No. 34's blasts but simply couldn't do it.

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