“Yeah, that one slipped a little bit,” Halladay told Phillies reporters, flashing a grin.
That would be completely believable if not for the recent blood between the two teams. The Phillies’ five-year reign atop the National League East ended abruptly with a shift of power to the Nationals, a team poised to contend as division champions for years given the youth of team. Last May, Cole Hamels admitted to purposely plunking Bryce Harper, and drew a suspension from baseball and the verbal ire of General Manager Mike Rizzo.
If that wasn’t enough to further fuel contention, the pride of the former champions still raged when Jimmy Rollins said after the season finale that the Nationals would have been a second-place team if not for the injuries the Phillies endured. Jayson Werth recently countered by upping the ante, saying the Nationals would have won 120 games if not for their own injuries.
So when Halladay fires a fastball several feet behind Moore on the first pitch of the fourth inning at-bat with two outs the inning after Utley was hit, it’s hard to take it lightly.
“It slipped,” Halladay explained later. “Really, I think, we do need to protect our guys to an extent. I’m not saying that’s what happened. It slipped. But that’s important. We’ve had a lot of guys hit over the years. As a staff, we need to do a good job of protecting those guys. Spring training, you’re not necessarily trying to do it. But it wouldn’t have been the worst thing had it got him after hitting one of our good guys.”
That last line, in particular, was so open-ended it seems indeed possible that Halladay was making the case for purposely sending a message to the Nationals.
“That’s up to them,” he added. “I mean, I don’t understand why they’d think I was throwing at them. Obviously you can tell the conditions weren’t great and I yanked it in there. It’s spring training. If you’re going to throw at somebody or give a message in spring training, go ahead.”
Strasburg, whose command was already wavering against the batters before Utley, insisted he unintentionally yanked a fastball the second baseman. “I don’t have any reason to throw at him, do I?” he asked.