Both benches and bullpens cleared in the bottom of the fifth inning of Tuesday’s Braves-Nationals game when starter Julio Teheran hit Bryce Harper with a fastball and Harper yelled back as he walked to first base. Harper homered in the third inning off Teheran, a laser shot to center field in which he watched the flight of the ball for a split second and then tossed his bat to the side. It was the slowest home run trot of Harper’s career, a 23.66-second run around the bases, according to TaterTrotTracker.com.
With the first pitch of the following at-bat, Teheran fired a 94-mile per hour fastball that hit Harper on his right thigh. Harper tossed his bat to the side, and then pointed and yelled at Teheran. As Harper walked to first base, home plate umpire Joe West chased after him and held back catcher Brian McCann. Both benches cleared and hitting coach Rick Schu was the first National to reach Harper. The outfielder still shouted at the Braves while standing at first.
“Something he’s got to do,” said Harper, who believed Teheran hit him on purpose. “It’s part of the game and it’s something I guess he’s got to do.”
Asked is he was surprised Teheran hit him, Harper was blunt: “Uh, I hit that ball pretty far off him, so no, not really.”
Teheran had good command all night — he allowed only four hits over six innings and two of them were in the fifth inning — but he insisted he wasn’t intentionally trying to hit Harper. The homer he allowed was on a fastball over the plate and he said he wanted to come back inside and yanked a two-seamer. McCann did, in fact, set up inside on the pitch.
“I was surprised,” Teheran said of Harper’s reaction. “I didn’t know. I was just trying to get in there. I don’t want to make a mistake like I did with the homer. That’s how I hit him. … I get upset because I don’t want to hit him. When he say that to me, that’s when I start walking.”
Said Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez, who also believed the hit by pitch wasn’t intentional: “He was just trying to throw a fastball in and he held onto it a little bit and got him in the thigh. And then boys being boys. I think Joe West did a nice job, and just giving everybody warnings and everybody settled down and everybody went back to playing baseball.”
After the plunking, Nationals relievers raced in from the bullpen in right field and players from both dugouts poured onto the field. Players stood around and both teams kept their distances milling about without any contact. Within a minute or so, the situation diffused. Harper said he wasn’t going to charge the mound.
“I mean, 14 1/2 games down and I need to be in the lineup,” Harper said. “He’s got to do what he’s got to do. And it’s part of the game, like I said. If I walk-off on somebody and he wants to drill me, I’ll let him drill me and I’ll stand on first base and say some choice words and get over it.”
Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said he asked West if he felt Teheran hit Harper intentionally, which would be just cause to throw him out instead of issuing a warning. Johnson said West didn’t think it was because the pitch was low.
“I don’t think Harp did anything when he hit the home run,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t nothing. I don’t know what he was thinking. I don’t know if he was trying to go inside and brush him back and he hit him in the leg. I thought (Ryan Zimmerman) answered it right, he almost hit one out of the ballpark. That’s the way you answer that sort of thing. You file it for future reference. There’s nothing you can do at that time to level the playing field.”
Teheran said Harper’s slower-than-normal home run trot didn’t bother him because he wasn’t paying attention. “I didn’t watch,” he said. “I was getting concentrated on the next batter and I didn’t watch him at all.”
Harper said he understood why McCann responded so angrily in defense of his teammate. McCann said he was trying to protect Teheran and wasn’t sure of the right-hander’s intent. He did, however, notice Harper admiring his home run in the previous at-bat. “He sat there for a little bit,” McCann said. “It is what it is.”
(Worth noting that Justin Upton homered on Monday night off Tyler Clippard and took a slow 27.36 seconds to round the bases.)
Even the two team’s official Twitter accounts joined the fray. The Braves accounted tweeted “Clown move bro” after the benches cleared. The Nationals account responded: “Which part, giving up the home run, or drilling the 20-year-old on the first pitch his next time up?” Retired Brave Chipper Jones, who became friends with Harper last season, also chimed in on Twitter with tough words for Harper: “Don’t walk off homers and u won’t get hit!”
First baseman Adam LaRoche said that if Teheran was intentionally trying to hit Harper “that’s pretty weak.”