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What awaits Nats in Philly?


What awaits Nats in Philly?

Fresh off an eventful weekend series against their biggest interleague rivals, the Nationals tonight open another important series against their biggest division rivals.

And if you thought the scene at Nationals Park two weeks ago when the Phillies came to town was wild, imagine what the folks at Citizens Bank Park might have in store for the Nats over the next three nights.

"Hopefully I get a couple boos," Bryce Harper said yesterday. "That'd be awesome. I'm excited to get up there and play, and hopefully they don't throw any batteries or whatnot at me."

Whether the Philly faithful give Harper the old J.D. Drew batteries treatment, or whether they elect to go the "whatnot" route instead, the 19-year-old outfielder surely will be the center of attention of a series that opens with plenty of backstory.

After Cole Hamels openly acknowledged plunking Harper in the kidneys on purpose (receiving a five-game suspension in the process), and after Jordan Zimmermann perhaps retaliated by throwing a pitch at Hamels' knees, and after Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels "fake tough" (receiving a fine in the process), there's no telling what carryover there might be as the two teams meet again.

Some in the Nationals clubhouse predicted there would be no more extracurricular activity, guessing the umpires will issue warnings to both dugouts before the game even starts (thus requiring any pitcher and his manager to be ejected the first time a batter is hit by a pitch).

The two principal pitchers involved in that Sunday Night Baseball dust-up won't meet each other in this series. Zimmermann is scheduled to pitch tomorrow night against Phillies ace Roy Halladay. Hamels is slated to start Wednesday's finale against Edwin Jackson. (Gio Gonzalez and Kyle Kendrick are on the mound for tonight's opener.)

Of more importance than any lingering bad blood between the clubs is the fact these games are significant to both in their quest to re-assume the top spot in the NL East. After leading the division for most of the season's first six weeks, the Nationals now trail the Braves by 1 12 games. The Phillies, meanwhile, have rebounded from their shaky start, having won six of eight to get back to the .500 mark.

"I think everybody knew early on that wasn't going last for long," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "That's a great team, even with a couple of their big guys hurt. Great pitching. They have a knack for getting big hits and scoring runs, so it's going to be tough. They're starting to come around, and it'll be another battle for us."

Not that the Nationals are fazed in the least at the prospect of playing the reigning five-time division champs in their home. They have, after all, won seven of their last eight head-to-head meetings.

"We took two-of-three from Philly last time, so it's not like we were going to go in panicking against Philly," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "Like I said, they're a great ballclub, and I'm not taking anything away from them saying they're not a good ballclub. But we're not going to panic. This team's too good. We have too many veterans, guys that have been around four or five years, that there's no need to panic. We know that we can play, and we know that we can win."

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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:


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.


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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. 


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.