Bryce Harper was at the center of attention in Tuesday night's clash between the Nationals and the Braves. Yes, the Braves won their 12th in a row with a 2-1 victory. And yes, the Nationals are now 14 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the NL East, and despite having the league's best record a year ago, sit five games under .500. But that's not what people will be talking about after Tuesday night's game.
In the top of the third inning, Harper made a diving catch on Evan Gattis' drive, saving a run, and in the bottom of the third, he bashed a solo home run (his 17th of the year) to dead centerfield to provide the game's first run:
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Then things got heated. Teheran and the Braves must have been miffed at the way Harper momentarily admired his blast, which looked to have traveled around 430 feet, then flipped his bat as he began his home run trot, and took his time traveling around the bases. When the 20-year-old slugger came to the plate again in the bottom of the fifth inning, with his team trailing 2-1, he was drilled in the right thigh by Julio Teheran. The pitch didn't look anything like the proverbial "one that got away," it was a first-pitch 94 mph fastball that left little doubt as to the hurler's intent, and left no time for Harper to get out of the way. It wasn't as though Teheran could claim control problems; after throwing 24 pitches and issuing two walks in the first inning, he didn't need more than 15 pitches in any of the next four frames, and he didn't walk another hitter all night.
As soon as he was hit, Harper began jawing with and gesturing at Teheran, and as he walked down the first-base line, both benches and bullpens emptied. Home plate umpire Joe West quickly got between catcher Brian McCann and Harper before things got physical, and the rest of the umpiring crew kept both teams in check to such a point that instead of the typical scrum, the great majority of Braves and Nationals players looked like wallflowers at a middle school dance. As they dispersed, West issued warnings to Teheran and both benches to prevent any further festivities. Here's the video from MLB.com:
[mlbvideo id="29473107" width="600" height="360" /]
There's no doubt that Harper's pace around the bases was uncharacteristically slow; according to the Tater Trot Tracker Twitter account, which times every home run hitter's trip around the bases, his 23.66 seconds was 1.5 seconds longer than any of his previous homers and five seconds slower than his average, a speedy 18.73 seconds. As you can hear on that second video, the Nationals' television announcers pointed out that the Braves' Justin Upton reacted similarly and took his own sweet time with his decisive eighth-inning homer last night, which clocked in at a glacial 27.36 seconds. Yet Upton didn't face any repercussions for his reaction. All of which goes to show how arbitrarily the unwritten rules of baseball are applied. Harper had two more chances to get even on Tuesday night. With the score holding at 2-1, he singled off reliever Luis Avilan in the seventh but was ultimately stranded at third, and he struck out swinging against Craig Kimbrel to end the game. It was a rough loss for the Nationals, who dropped their third straight game and fifth in their last seven to fall to 54-59. They haven't been above .500 since July 14, when they were 48-47.