Since I was told about yesterday’s dugout rumble between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, I’ve been trying to find out which baseball scholar referred to baseball players as men of 25 with the maturity level of 15-year-olds. Spending more than a decade riding buses with them, eating and drinking with them, hearing them continually blame somebody else for their failings, I feel I’m in a position to back that statement up if i could find out who said it. However, Papelbon took immaturity to a new level yesterday. Team fights happen, sometimes with ugly consequences. Shortly after I left Charleston, while it was still a Tampa Bay farm club, Elijah Dukes punched Eliot Johnson in the face, breaking his jaw and putting him out of action for a good chunk of the season. But unlike yesterday’s fight, the Johnson-Dukes encounter did not happen on live TV with millions of witnesses. That was Papelbon’s biggest of many mistakes, not dragging Harper out of sight if he wanted a scrap with him. Even at that, in this day and age it might have gotten out, but between the players and team management, they could have spun it. Not now, not with TV cameras making plain what happened.
The whole incident is shocking. Just for starters, it happened in a tie game. When I first heard of it, I mistakenly guessed Philly was already way ahead when Papelbon flipped his cork. Not so. Jeff Francoeur had hit a tying two-run homer in the top of the 8th off Casey Janssen to knot the game at 4. Bryce Harper led off the inning flying out to left, the start of what, in a sane world would have been a quiet 1-2-3 inning. That didn’t happen on Planet Papelbon. The pitcher confronted his teammate, who is an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter. Papelbon was on the dugout step giving him even more leverage. Before jumping ugly, Papelbon reportedly yapped at Harper for not running out a fly ball-which makes as much sense as telling a hurricane to stop blowing. Even before baseball players were millionaires, some of the game’s superstars, Roger Maris and Karl Yastrzemski to name two, were tagged as loafers but nothing was done about it, least of all by their teammates. I can only guess what Harper said back to Papelbon, but to borrow from Dave Barry I’d make a large bet it rhymes with “Duck shoe.” From there it was a better fight than Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao put on last May on pay-per-view. The pitcher grabbed for the outfielder’s throat and shoved him back toward the bench. Here is where a manager with clout, a Joe McCarthy for example, would say “Girls, girls,” or some such and the two would be suitably embarrassed. Where was embattled Washington manager Matt Williams? Nowhere to be found, from what I was told. Other highly paid ball players had to separate the combatants.
Nobody will believe this, but I was once the aggressor in a scuffle. In high school, (and I’m cleaning up the language in the interest of good taste,) a bully called me a blind so-and-so, a name he had called me a thousand times before. The problem was, it was already a bad day. He wasn’t the first hood to get on my back that day. To make things worse, I was standing next to a girl I was sweet on at the time, and when he called me that name, she laughed. That pushed me over the edge. I grabbed the guy with both hands around his throat and yelled as many unprintable things as I could think of before two teachers dragged me off. I tell you that personal story for one reason-you can’t instantly get over that kind of encounter. It takes time to cool down-time Papelbon didn’t have. If the Nats had scored a bunch of runs in their half of the eighth, maybe he would have survived. They meekly went 1, 2, 3. In the top of the 9th, a still overheated Papelbon struck out his first man, then walked Freddie Galvis and gave up a two-run blast to Andres Blanco. He got one more man out but loaded the bases before leaving the game. all 3 of his runners scored, then 3 more Phillies did likewise. The result was an 8-run inning and a 12-5 Phillies win. The fighters both claimed it was “like brothers” fighting. If so, neither is a brother I’d send a Christmas card to this year.
So much of this is ugly and embarrassing that one fact is generally ignored. Papelbon, in a sensible world would not have been allowed to pitch yesterday. Wednesday he had thrown at Manny Machado of the Orioles twice in the area of his head, hitting his shoulder with the second pitch. MLB had announced a 3-game suspension. However, under an idiotic technicality in the rules he was able to appeal, though that incident too was televised and no way can he deny what he did. So pending the appeal he was allowed to play on and turn Fan Appreciation Day in Washington into a grotesque scene which will never be forgotten by any who were there or who saw it on TV.
Rare Cardinals Meltdown
The Cardinals can count their blessings that Jake Arrieta dominated the Pirates last night. Had the Pirates won, they would have been just 2 games behind the Cards following a game the Cardinals thought was theirs. Starting pitcher John Lackey had throttled a Brewers team with 90 losses over 7 innings. He was pulled in deference to the upcoming playoffs with his team ahead 3-1 following home runs by Matt carpenter and Stephen Piscotty. As the top of the 9th began and Trevor Rosenthal came on to pitch, logic dictates that the Brewers would already have mailed this one in. Somehow that didn’t happen. Following a single, a hit batter and a walk, up came pinch-hitter Jason Rogers, the pride of East Point, Georgia. He unloaded a mighty shot to dead center for a grand slam home run. Desperate to keep the damage under control, the Cards called on former East Carolina University Pirate Seth Maness. But his luck was as bad as Rosenthal’s had been. After a single and a walk, Brewers’ Khris Davis hit his second big fly of the game, making it 8-3. The Cardinals put up a run in their half but it was far too little too late. This was hardly the way the Cardinals wanted to head for Pittsburgh to begin one of the two best series starting tonight. The other is the Royals facing the Cubs at Wrigley Field.0