“Golly, what a battle,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
Strasburg wouldn’t complete another inning, tossed for the first time in his career after he fired three straight wild pitches in a strange sequence in the second inning.
Manager Davey Johnson also was ejected. Left fielder Scott Hairston joined them after arguing a called third strike late in the game, forcing this ongoing saga’s central figure, bruised Bryce Harper, into action. With two outs in the ninth, closer Rafael Soriano blew his second straight save.
The entire bullpen was used. Tuesday’s starter, Haren, volunteered for duty. Defensive replacement LaRoche provided the deciding home run.
The game had several standout performances: four dominant innings by rookie long reliever Tanner Roark in relief of Strasburg, two bounce-back innings from rookie Ian Krol, three late powerhouse innings from Craig Stammen, Haren’s save and LaRoche’s homer. But the contest served as the venue for baseball players to settle old scores. An early bullpen implosion. A blown save. Twenty-two runners left on base. Thirty-six strikeouts. And two teams with budding distaste for each other.
These disappointing Nationals have been kicked around by the Atlanta for over four months, their play against their fiercest division rival dismal at best. Harper took three pitches to the body by Braves pitchers in the past two weeks, one of the two he sustained on Friday night hard enough to force him to sit out the start of Saturday’s game with a bruised arm. That is what finally forced the Nationals to take action.
Upton, the Braves’ best hitter, was batting second. Strasburg allowed a leadoff home run to Jason Heyward but the Nationals led 2-1. Strasburg reared back and fired a 97-mile per hour fastball right at Upton’s left hip. Even without an explanation, a first-pitch fastball to the midsection of the other team’s best player is a fairly clear message. And given what had transpired recently, it perhaps didn’t need any words.
“I’m not gonna get into that,” Strasburg said.