Last night in Washington, the Philadelphia Philles avoided a sweep at the hands of the Nationals. One of the themes being pushed by Nats brass during this past weekend was that of “Natitude” and reminding Nats fans not to sell off their tickets to incoming Phillies fans as has been the norm in the past.
Maybe it was the Nats’ hot start that caused Philadelphia left hander Cole Hamels to take matters into his own hands. Maybe it was the frustration of watching his Phillies, the class of the NL East for so long, being thoroughly beaten in the series first two games. Or maybe he just doesn’t like a super-hyped 19-year-old outfielder to be the guy getting all the attention. For whatever reason, Hamels decided to put a first-pitch fastball in Bryce Harper‘s ribs when the kid came to the plate in the first inning.
The Nats did exact some measure of retribution for the play, though Hamels and Phillies wound up salvaging a game in the series. Harper came around to score after the plunking, stealing home for his first major league stolen base. Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann also made sure he stood up for his young star, drilling Hamels in the left shin with the first pitch of his initial trip to the plate.
As much as Hamels’ pitch may have been the story when the game was drawing to a close, it was his words afterward that drew even more attention. After the game, when asked if the plunking of Harper was intentional, Hamels didn’t shy away. “I was trying to hit him. I’m not going to deny it.” Hamels went on to complain about the size of the strikezone Harper was getting, saying that baseball was protecting the kid. Even if that were the case (and this piece at The Outside Corner shows it isn’t), I’m not sure how Hamels thinks this was Harper’s fault. I mean, is Harper somehow disrespecting the game because umpires aren’t calling a wide zone on him? Maybe Hamels should have thrown at the umpire if this was really his reasoning.
Harper has garnered a lot of attention, ever since he left high school early so he could compete against better competition prior to the draft. People don’t like him because of his history of wearing his eye-black like war paint, his bouts of immaturity made public only by his fame, and of course, because of his arrogance, perceived or otherwise. They don’t like him because he has more raw talent than any player since Barry Bonds.
Harper is already so notorious that the crowd at Dodger Stadium showered him with boos in his first major league at bat. And though he’s played less than 10 games in the major leagues, Harper has already showed many of the reasons he’s loathed. Rare is the player, be it rookie, veteran or hall of famer, who combines elite level talent with hard work and hustle. Harper has drawn the ire of big leaguers in the past for his propensity to run hard at all times, as silly as that sounds. Those veterans are mad that he’ll show them up and make it obvious when they aren’t hustling because of how often Harper is.
If you ask me, Hamels’ drilling of Harper showed a heck of lot more immaturity than Harper has ever shown. He threw at Harper because he doesn’t like the kid and wanted to teach him a lesson; remind him of his place in the pecking order. The guy is only a rookie, after all, how dare he show his talent. I guess I give him props for not hiding what he did, but that doesn’t change the misguided message he tried to send.
There is a lot of talk this morning about whether or not Hamels should be suspended for what he admitted to doing. I’ve always been of a mind to allow the players to police the game themselves and that’s what Zimmermann did by plunking Hamels in turn. To me, and to the players on the field last night, the issue was resolved; whether or not Hamels is suspended is immaterial to me, though I do suspect he see big enough suspension to cost him a start.
Cole Hamels attempted to bully Bryce Harper last night. It was every bit a microcosm of the two clubs so far this year. The Nationals are young, talented, and on the rise. Perennial cellar-dwellers, a club playing with “Natitude” for the first time in their existence. The Phillies are the old guard, division winners every season in recent memory and a team loaded with savvy veterans. They are also a team on the decline.
Hamels and the Phillies tried to put Harper the Nats in their place this weekend. Something tells me that Harper isn’t the kind of guy to take the hint, put his head down and quietly fall in line. All Hamels did last night was stoke the flames.
John Parent is the NL Editorial Director for FanSided MLB. He can be reached at [email protected] or via twitter @JohnJParent.