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Papelbon, Harper explain their fight

Sep 27, 2015, 6:50 PM EST

Photo by AP

Saturday night was supposed to be rock bottom for the Nationals. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention, thus putting to rest preseason expectations of a dominant team destined to win a World Series. But little did they know, just one day later matters would indeed get much, much worse.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon grabbed superstar Bryce Harper by the throat and drove him into the wall of the Nationals’ dugout in Washington on Sunday in one of baseball’s uglier incidents in recent years. The spat apparently began because Papelbon did not think Harper hustled his way to first on a flyout to left field in the eighth inning.

Harper walked back to the dugout as Papelbon stood on the top step and yelled at him. The two exchanged words before Papelbon took the incident to an unexpected level.

Both players described the fight as an isolated incident afterwards. Both players said it had nothing to do with Harper questioning Papelbon’s decision to plunk Manny Machado in the team’s game against the Orioles just days prior. Both players said it was simply a matter of tensions boiling over, of family members losing their cool.

Papelbon opened his discussion with reporters after the 12-5 loss with an apology and his explanation of what happened.

“First of all, I’ll say I’m in the wrong there,” he said. “You know, I grew up with brothers, he grew up with brothers. I view him as a brother of mine. 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.”

Manager Matt Williams – who has come under fire this season for his team’s underachievement – would not give much information on the matter whatsoever.

“Certainly there is a lot of testosterone flowing among young men competing. What I can tell you is this is a family issue and we’ll deal with it that way. There was an altercation in the dugout and we’ll leave it at that,” he said.

Harper and Papelbon had a discussion before the media was allowed into the clubhouse and both players said they will be able to get over their differences.

“It was a good conversation that you need to have when the situations and the heat of the battle spills over,” Papelbon said. “‘Hey look, I’m wrong, you’re right. You’re right, I’m wrong.’ Let’s come back together and keep fighting together and come back next year and keep doing the same thing.’ I think Bryce understands where I’m coming from and it’s squashed and it’s good and we’re gonna move on.”

“He apologized so whatever. I really don’t care,” Harper added. “It’s like brothers fighting. That’s what happened. And hopefully move forward and do what I can for the next six days to have fun and play the game.”

Papelbon, in fact, insists he and Harper’s relationship will grow stronger from this incident. Papelbon is under contract for the 2016 season and, barring something unforeseen, will remain the team’s closer for another year.

“We’ll be good and we’ll get better from this. I truly do think that we’ll get better from this, our relationship will get better from this. Next year when we are in the thick of it and we are grinding together and big games mean something, we’ll pick each other up,” he said.

  1. Another_Sam - Sep 27, 2015 at 6:56 PM

    Does anyone here believe that Pap can and should stay – contract be damned?

    • coolhandbane - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:00 PM

      I hope not. To me, keeping pap on the team, along with Williams, will drives fans away next year. From what I have seen and read from actual nats fans, some (if not most) believe Williams needs to be gone (some believe he may not deserve it but it needs to happen). I can guess that these same fans believe pap should be gone as well. Rizzo has to change the clubhouse environment next season and it starts with pap and Williams.

    • golfersal - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:43 PM

      Ship him out and give Storen the closer job for a third time.

      Only kidding, Rizzo (or whoever takes over if he hopefully gets fired) has to find a closer and a set-up man for next year

    • janebeard - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:32 PM

      Absolutely not. And Storen needs to go to a team that believes in him. This Pap acquisition creaked Drew. And it didn’t do Pap any favors. They canNOT call this ” brother’s fighting.” That is a flat out attack. And if the Nats management and owners don’t take a strong position against Pap for it, they really aren’t a team I can root for. I bet I’m not alone. This isn’t me being hot headed. This is me being viscerally, fundamentally offended that they could allow this kind of happy talk/brush it under the carpet BS line rule the day. And I am SURE I am not the only one.

      Character. Make-up. Isn’t that what they say matters most? Pap has to go. And so does the manager that said “he’s our closer” and let a bully, an assailant, take the mound.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:47 PM

      Nope.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:54 PM

        Which was meant to respond to this:

        “Does anyone here believe that Pap can and should stay – contract be damned?”

  2. Section 222 - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:03 PM

    This report really doesn’t capture the tone of Bryce’s interview. Seeing that, I would not say that he’s put it behind him. He’s still pissed. Hopefully they can put it behind them, but I think Pap will probably be gone by spring. What a stupid thing to do. Who appointed him enforcer of the hustle rules? That’s MW’s job, and maybe Werth can do it too, as he did with Gio.

    There’s no doubt that Bryce’s hustle has waned. He turns it on when he gets a hit, but he jogs down the line a lot now. I don’t like it, but when he’s having an MVP season, I’ll put up with it. And so should Pap and every other player in the dugout.

    • Candide - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:34 PM

      This report really doesn’t capture the tone of Bryce’s interview.

      My takeaway from his interview:

      1) He was still seething, and;
      2) Someone he has to listen to told him to say nothing beyond he’s looking forward to the rest of the season.

      • Sonny G 10 - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:26 PM

        Same here Candide. Bryce was seething for sure and I don’t blame him.

    • Candide - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:40 PM

      There’s no doubt that Bryce’s hustle has waned. He turns it on when he gets a hit, but he jogs down the line a lot now. I don’t like it, but when he’s having an MVP season, I’ll put up with it.

      He might be having an MVP season partly because he doesn’t go full throttle every time. It’s a long season, especially for the guys playing every inning every day (as opposed to the closer who might throw a dozen or so pitches three or four times a week), and if you’re pedal to the metal all the time, you’re going to wear out faster. Wasn’t so long ago that we were all advising Bryce to throttle it back a little, because there was little profit in knocking yourself woozy against the outfield wall.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:48 PM

      Yep, he was still PO’d.

  3. jskurtzke - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:10 PM

    So the bigger question is whether the Pap signing will cost Rizzo his job? It’s clear that the pitching staff needs to be almost completely rebuilt. Do the Lertners have confidence that Rizzo is the one to do it?

    • voteforno6 - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:36 PM

      You’re kidding, right? Rizzo also built the teams that won the division in ’12 and ’14.

      • golfersal - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:45 PM

        Rizzo is also the same guy that built the ’13 team that underachieved and the ’15 team that really imploded. Have to fire him, he and Williams are damaged goods .

  4. jonnybagodoughnuts - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    1. Paplebon is lucky Desi pulled Harper off
    2. Frustration boiled over, so what.
    3. The nats bullpen is in a total mess for the foreseeable future.

    4. .337 .440 .531 .971 Bryce is not the problem with this team.

  5. jonnybagodoughnuts - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:13 PM

    er those are miggy’s stats Bryce’s are .336 .467 .658 1.125 plus 41 dingers.

  6. ehay2k - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:30 PM

    On Bryce’s jog to first, it was a lazy fly ball to left, not a liner. Bryce went to first but this also wasn’t a ground ball where he had to beat the throw. If Francouer (I think he was in left at the time) drops the ball, Bryce is safe without running hard. But any other way, he was out. No need to risk injury by running out a play that had no alternative outcome by running hard. Ridiculous of Papelbon to say a word about it.

    And JayB, just because people are finding fault with MW now dies not mean they thought the team was dysfunctional all year. You are making an assumption about people’s beliefs that you should not.

    • janebeard - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:33 PM

      +1

    • Sonny G 10 - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:43 PM

      +2

  7. senators5 - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:01 PM

    Having played and coached this game for 60+ years, seeing position players go at it because they compete for the same spots on the field and/or batting order slots and they see way too much of each other in good times and particularly in bad times was and is totally understandable BUT I can’t ever remember a pitcher and for that matter a relief pitcher crossing the line with a position player. The old time Cardinals had many a brawl but they ended up happily.with beers at the neighborhood tavern because they had a simple rule: “No pitchers allowed.” Professional athletes today have huge egos fed constantly by the media and unless you have this experience, be careful to assume the clubhouses, locker rooms are kind and gentle places. However, a relief pitcher attacking a starting position player especially when he is a boy wonder who believes he is invincible is way over the top. As everyone has said, the next move is Rizzo’s. Hopefully, the Lerners will let him do what needs to be done. Clean up this house while remembering competition is not always clean, good ole boy stuff.

  8. natfan33 - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:28 PM

    I’m just hoping that there is something in Pap’s contract that allows the Nats to release him for this conduct. They need a closer that throws harder than 93mph anyway.

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