BY RYAN LEONG
Memorial Day is best known as a time to remember and pay respects to all those who have died while serving in the armed forces. But It seems to have a different meaning for Giants reliever Hunter Strickland.
Strickland has not forgotten that Nationals phenom Bryce Harper homered off him twice during the 2014 National League Division Series and he drilled Harper in the hip with a 98 mile per hour fastball in the top of the 8th inning. Harper was not amused, he stepped out from the batters box and pointed his bat at Strickland before charging the mound.
When he neared Strickland he took off his helmet and cocked his arm as if to throw it at Strickland’s head. Thinking better of it he threw it to the side and both men engaged in a few blows before both teams rushed to the mound. Strickland was so infuriated he needed to be restrained by teammates and physically carried off the field as he was taken away to the Giants clubhouse.
Both players were ejected as a result and the Nationals took advantage of the situation. Strickland had hit Harper when there were two outs and nobody on base. Washington took advantage of the gift base runner as Ryan Zimmerman, who had already homered in the second inning, singled to extend the inning and Daniel Murphy’s base hit to right-center scored pinch runner Brian Goodwin to make it 3-0 which was the final score.
All the talk after the game was about the melee that had ensued. Strickland was asked what he thought when he saw Harper charging at him with helmet in hand and he replied, “It’s go time, I mean you’ve got to protect yourself and stand your own ground.”
He then is prepared to face whatver fines and possible suspension is yet to come. “I’m not sure how all that goes. That’s their decision and obviously I’ll take whatever consequences come with it and we’ll go from there.”
Harper was dumbfounded to say the least and he wasn’t expecting it. “Not in that situation since it’s been three years and they won the World Series that year,” Harper said. “I don’t know why he did it or what he did it for. That’s the first time I was certain that somebody was trying to throw at me. The one thing I’ve got to say about Strickland is he hit me in the right spot so I do respect him for that. He didn’t come up and in at my face or anything like that.”
Harper continued and said for a team that went on to win the World Series, it’s something that should have been forgotten about. “It was three years ago, over a thousand days. I don’t know why he’s thinking about it. He’s got a World Series ring, it’s on his finger, he’s able to look at it every single night he wants to. There’s nothing to be thinking about the first round for because we were out and they were playing Kansas City in the World Series.”
Back in the Giants clubhouse, Posey was asked why he didn’t break it up since the catcher is the first line of defense. “After it happened I saw Harper point and the next thing you know he’s going out after him and there are some big guys tumbling around on the ground,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse is about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball so it’s a little dangerous to get in there sometimes.”
Translation: This is Hunter’s problem and I want no part of it.
Unfortunately you wonder if there will be a continuation of this and if the Nationals will retaliate by drilling Posey at some point in the next two games of the series.
As former manager Dusty Baker said, “It was a long time ago but in baseball, you carry grudges for a long time. I mean I even have a couple that I’ve been carrying for years and it happens.” Baker did not leave on good terms with the Dodgers as a player or the Giants as manager in 2002 when the team was eight outs away from winning the World Series and failed.
They say time heals all wounds but for Strickland, it hasn’t been long enough.
Ryan Leong is a San Francisco native and covers all Bay Area sports teams as a correspondent for ESPN radio and wire services. He is a former sports anchor for KCBS and has reported on over 3,600 live games since 1998.