You don’t hit Bryce Harper on national television and get away with it. I’m not sure what I was going to write about today, but while I sat in an insufferable hour-long traffic jam on Route 1 the Hamels/Harper confrontation had gone from heated to absurd. I think that is mostly due to the participants. Hamels and Nats GM Mike Rizzo appear to be two guys who can’t quite get things right. Hamels has an almost McNabbian way of being perceived as a goof regardless of what he’s saying or doing. Rizzo flies off the handle in a profanity supplemented tirade where he was trying to call someone else classless. All he did was shine a million watt bulb on the giant chip on his shoulder. This is the guy who theoretically could have put a stop to “Natitude,” but there we were on Sunday night subjected to a healthy dose of it–whatever it may be.
What started as a simple HBP has gone through a number of escalators. I wasn’t positive Hamels hit Harper on purpose. There was no doubt he intended to throw at him, but there was a small chance this was a purpose pitch that got too far inside. At the time, I was a little disappointed in Hamels. Phillies pitchers had been pitching around Harper all series. And, that’s not entirely surprising when Kyle Kendrick is doing the pitching, but with Hamels on the mound, you wanted to see Harper challenged. Hamels obliged, but in a way that most people weren’t expecting. The most effective measure against Harper would have been to hang an 0-4 on him, to make him look foolish at the plate, but Hamels threw at him. It wasn’t a terrible choice, considering how the series had gone to that point, but a few minutes later the play had decidedly backfired.
That’s the problem with bean balls. Often times they miss their mark in terms of desired intent. Hamels referenced the old days of baseball and certainly then you dug in at your own risk. Guys didn’t just throw inside, they threw up and in. And for a while the hitters weren’t even wearing a helmet. If you think a guy might stick one in your ear hole, that’s in the back of your mind, but hitting a guy in the small of the back isn’t likely to change his approach. Hamels hit Harper, but he didn’t “knock him down,” as the old saying goes. It was mostly a wasted pitch and if Hunter Pence hadn’t homered in the 4th, it could have been the spark for a Nats sweep.
Hamels would eventually get hit himself, another intentional lower body shot, and it’s possible that it all could have ended there. It certainly would have cooled, but after the game Hamels was as blunt as he could be when saying he intentionally threw at Harper, not with the intent to injure, but to “welcome him to the Big Leagues.” I guess being in D.C. made Cole channel George Washington. I’m sure his quotes produced their share of face-palms among the Phillies’ front office. It’ll be the quote, not the pitch that ultimately gets Hamels suspended. I don’t know how Cole can avoid it. If he’s not suspended, you’re basically saying it’s OK to hit guys on purpose. Of course, that’s one of baseball’s unwritten rules. You can hit a guy on purpose–you just can’t admit it.
This is where Rizzo comes in with his escalation. The sensible GM thing to say would be, “That’s not how we play. Hamels cost his team a run and likely cost himself a start down the line. If he wants to go on hurting his team, that’s his decision. We feel the situation was addressed last night and unless we continue to feel our players are being targeted, we consider the matter closed.” Rizzo’s response, however, had all the maturity and front office presence of a grade schooler’s cancelled birthday party invitation. Rizzo called Hamels, “gutless” and “classless.” He called the move “chickensh*t.” He referred to Hamels as “fake tough.” It’s my experience that tough guys do very little talking, especially in squawky press quotes. In terms of “fake toughness,” this appears to be a pot and kettle situation. Davey Johnson knows the only way his team will get respect is to win the division. Rizzo thinks it’ll come by running your mouth and draping your partially filled stadium in horsebleep slogans.
Lost in all this is Harper’s total silence. Bryce may wear too much eye-black and already drive opposing fans crazy, but I expect he was smart enough to know this was coming at some point. His reaction is proof enough of that. He shows a lot of emotion out on the field, but there was nothing after the beaning. And nothing more after the game. Rizzo at the end of his rant said something like Harper would probably be upset that he was sticking up for him. Finally a moment of clarity from Rizzo, albeit too late. Harper’s response was to steal home on Cole’s lollipop pick-off throw. Unless it’s your first year out of dad-pitch, having a guy advance on a play like that is wildly embarrassing. Truth serum Hamels almost admitted as much after the game.
We’re starting to get the opinions flying in from all angles on this one. Did someone ask for Curt Schilling’s opinion? No? Here it is anyway: It’s anti-Hamels. This seems to be the consensus outside of Philadelphia, but I’ll bet the real outrage is in the fact that Hamels was so candid. Again, that’s the unwritten rule. Now everyone has to leap to the high ground and act like they never hit anyone on purpose.
It adds quite a dimension to this Phillies/Nationals rivalry. Whether we get to an actual rivalry remains to be seen. Phillies fans still had no problems invading “Natitude Park,” over the weekend, but it was Washington who took 2 of 3. It’s Washington who is atop the division standings, but we’re a long way from the finish line. Both of these teams have big issues, Jayson Werth’s broken wrist the newest for Washington. It’s likely by mid-summer these teams will be battling for third, not first. They’re very similar. It’s not a huge surprise that Washington’s 1/2/3 starters got 2 of 3 from Philly’s 1-2a/4/6 starters.
Even that took a couple of missed calls in what was a terribly umpired game on Friday. It happens, but that loss along with the bullpen implosion in Atlanta tarnished what really could have been a great trip. The Phillies threw in only one real stink bomb and that was against Gio Gonzalez. They hit some homers, looked more patient in general at the plate and with some better 8th inning work could have easily gone 5-1. Instead they settled for 3-3, but to me it’s pretty clear, with the exception of the bullpen, the Phillies are playing much better now than they were 2 weeks ago.
They need to carry it over, though. It’s a team in dire need of a winning streak. They haven’t won 3-4 in a row yet this year. That makes it tough to get some breathing room over .500. They’re looking at long and favorable stretch of home games coming up here for the rest of the month. New York, Houston, SD…these are all winnable series, but I think this is a year where Phillies fans will rarely feel comfortable. In the past a Doc vs. Niese match-up would be like starting a series up 1-0, but with the way things have gone this year with Doc and with the Phils’ offense against lefties, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Phils to start another series in a hole. There will be a lot of pressure on Halladay tonight to right what went wrong in Atlanta.
As far as the feud with Washington goes, we’ll see how things feel in a couple of weeks. I’m worried that it’ll be another black-eye for Philly fans when Harper shows up. Hopefully no one throws anything onto field. If we really wanted to make a statement, we’d just ignore the kid. Don’t even give him the satisfaction of the boos. Why turn him into the next J.D. Drew? It just makes it more painful when he sticks it up your backside. Perhaps Hamels should have just treated him like another hitter as well, but he didn’t and now here we are…