Bryce Harper was ejected in the first inning of the Nationals’ 6-2 victory over the Pirates Sunday afternoon after he drew the ire of umpiring crew chief John Hirschbeck with his reaction to a check-swing third strike. The incident left the Nationals without their best player and, owing to behavior from Hirschbeck that Manager Davey Johnson deemed overaggressive, raised the issue of contentious relations between umpires and players.
With two outs and none on, Harper tried to check his swing on a 2-2 curveball from Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez. The Pirates appealed to Hirschbeck, the third base umpire, who rang up Harper. “He made the right call,” Johnson said.
Harper raised his hands in protest, with the bat over his head. Hirschbeck, in his 29th season as an MLB umpire, started yelling at Harper and walking toward him. Home plate umpire Bob Davidson chimed in from behind. Harper appeared to yell back at Hirschbeck and threw his bat on the ground. Hirscbeck pointed at Harper, who then threw his helmet. As Johnson sprinted out of the dugout, Hirschbeck ejected the 20-year-old slugger.
“I didn’t like that he put his hands up with the bat,” Hirschbeck said. “That’s kind of what I yelled at him. He continued and threw his bat. I kind of pointed like, ‘That’s equipment.’ And then, he still continued and slammed his helmet down. That’s when I ejected him.
“I was actually just being nice. Even the hands up in the air is showing me up, to me. I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game. And then he slammed his bat down. And then on top of that, he slammed his helmet. I had no other recourse, really.”
After Harper was tossed, Johnson argued with Hirscbeck.
“I got on John a little bit,” Johnson said. Harper is “young temperamentally. [Hirschbeck] didn’t have to walk toward him. … I just told John, ‘Call him and out then turn around. Don’t keep looking at him.’ ”
Afterward, Harper declined to address specifics about his ejection. No fewer than fives times in a 90-second group interview, he expressed happiness that the Nationals had won.
“I don’t have much to say on it,” Harper said. “I’m not going to badmouth anybody or say anything I shouldn’t say. I’m glad we got the W today.”
Harper, of course, is the kind player fans pay to watch. Hirschbeck said that played no role in his decision.
“He needs to think of that next time and keep himself in the game,” Hirschbeck said. “It’s not my job. It’s his job.”
Harper had only been thrown out once before in his young career. On Aug. 29 last year in Miami, he spiked his helmet after being thrown out on a close play at first and was tossed by first base umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Johnson shares a unique history with Hirschbeck. In 1996, he managed the Orioles when Baltimore second baseman Roberto Alomar received a suspension for spitting in Hirschbeck’s face.
“He’s a good umpire,” Johnson said. ”I like John. He made the right call, what can I say? I just wished he hadn’t have made it. I never want to lose anybody, and I definitely don’t want to lose my three-hole hitter, first inning.”
The Nationals replaced Harper in left field with Roger Bernadina. Johnson found a silver lining in the rest Harper received. Harper has played since Tuesday with a bruise on his left side, a result of crashing into the outfield in Atlanta.
“I was gonna give Harper a day off,” Johnson said. “But I didn’t expect him to get it that way.”