Hunter Strickland learned every lesson he needed to learn about coolness and professionalism during the 2014 playoffs. Remember when Bryce Harper homered off the Giants reliever in Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS? No big deal.
“You’ve got to forget it,” Strickland said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “You’ve got to have a short memory and go for it because this isn’t about me and my stats. This is about the team and moving forward.”
And when he seemed to lose his cool during Game 2 of that year’s World Series? He’s beyond that, too.
“It’s no secret as far as the mistakes I made,” Strickland later said, via the Contra Costa Times. “I learned I just need to control my emotions. Obviously, my emotions got the best of me in Game 2, so just going about it the right way and be more professional.”
“He knows he can’t beat up everybody who hits a home run off of him,” his manager, Bruce Bochy, said after that season.
And then the restrained, short-memoried, professional Strickland — who had hit two batters over more than 75 innings in 2016 and 2017 — hit Bryce Harper on the hip Monday evening. Was he still thinking about those 2014 home runs?
“The pitcher has to handle that stuff,” MASN analyst Ray Knight said after Monday’s game. “Now, how do you handle it? You shake it off like a professional and you come and you get him out with your arm: by throwing strikes, breaking balls and other stuff. You don’t get him back by drilling him, because that can really hurt somebody. That’s the way they played in my day, and I didn’t like it particularly.”
Bryce Harper charges the mound after being hit by Hunter Strickland pic.twitter.com/vXB3TqOsCR
— Barno (@DCBarno) May 29, 2017
Strickland said after Monday’s game he was just trying to throw inside, an argument that may have been convincing on some remote corner of Facebook but one that didn’t move Knight.
“I’m just saying, 100 percent: He. Threw. At. Him. On Purpose. No. Doubt. About. It,” Knight said. “I will go on record and say he absolutely meant to do it, on purpose, 100 percent. And I’m not a mind reader, but I can certainly tell a guy that misses the plate that much. Look at that pitch: that ball was behind him, and that’s where you’re taught to throw it. Hunter Strickland, feeling a little bit of I guess pain from the two home runs he gave up in 2014.”
Strickland’s argument didn’t particularly convince ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez, either, who still maintained that both sides were wrong, but who wasn’t easy on Strickland.
“You give up two home runs, the best way to take care of business is by getting the guy out the third time, making effective pitches,” Perez said. “Throwing at Harper for celebrating two home runs in postseason ball, that right there, that’s not a good thing for the Giants, that’s not a good thing for Strickland. And this happened three years ago. It wasn’t like it happened yesterday, it wasn’t like it happened in the last postseason. Three years ago. You’re talking about a guy that holds onto a grudge; well yes, Hunter did hold onto the grudge.”
Which is why Knight thought Harper was justified in charging the mound.
“You absolutely have the right to protect yourself,” Knight said. “A guy’s out there, [throwing] a lethal weapon. If that thing gets away and hits you in the head, that could end not only your career but your life. He did hit him on the butt, which is the right place to hit him, but that’s two feet off the plate. … I don’t mind seeing these kind of things; it reminds me of the old days. I just don’t like to see it held up for two years. And I have never liked for a pitcher to throw at me, whether it’s down, low, in or out, especially after you do damage to him. …
“There’s a right way to do it. You get him back as soon as you can,” Knight later said. “If you’re going to get him get him the next day, the next week, as long as it doesn’t hurt your team. Today he had two outs, he drilled him. He made up his mind in 2014, next opportunity that I get, when Bryce Harper faces me, I’m going to put fear in his mind. I can’t just let him get up there and free swing, because my 98 mile an hour fastball doesn’t faze him. Turns out he made the choice that I’m going to try to put a little fear in the back of his mind.”
Knight also broke down the first Harper postseason home run against Strickland, which he said precipitated the rest of the bad feelings because Strickland stared down Harper on his way around the bases.
“There’s not a man alive that’s going to put up with you staring at him, if he’s got any guts, and I know Bryce has a lot of guts,” Knight said. “When a guy stares at you, that’s just a straight-out challenge. It’s like somebody spitting in your face, it really is. Even if you’re a mild mannered person, you’re not going to take that. You’re just not going to.”