Just consider his indefensible, shocking, reprehensible actions. In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, with his team trailing the Giants, 3-0, Harper committed a cardinal baseball sin by hitting a Strickland pitch over the fence at Nationals Park. This was ruled a home run by the official scorer, making the score 3-1. Frankly, I don’t have to go on. I’d have ejected Harper right then and there, and/or sentenced him to federal prison.
But the effrontery went on. Two batters later — with Strickland still on the mound — a certain Asdrubal Cabrera mirrored Harper’s action, hitting the ball over the fence yet again. It’s like, seriously, what the hell? The poor pitcher should have walked off the field in protest. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Like Saint Augustine always said, it was pride that turned angels into devils, and angels aren’t intimidating at all and probably don’t even lift. The Giants held on for a 3-2 win, but some things can’t be easily forgotten.
Okay, so then more things happened — there was an 18-inning game, Jews went to Yom Kippur services and then came home to see baseball still going on, Drew Storen did some absolutely vintage Drew Storen stuff, Matt Williams pondered the meaning of life and relief pitching, the D.C. Sports Troll crept over the horizon, someone from Journey sang a song, the most important hitters on the Nats not named Bryce Harper were struck by a garlic-scented weakening spell, Wilson Ramos bunted, Harper hit another home run off a person named Jean Machi who evidently has no self-respect at all, reporters wrote about cat sculptures, I was probably depressed about something or other, Jayson Werth concocted a plan not to talk to reporters so as to prove that he is one of the worst figures in D.C. sports history, the Giants won a game and lost a game — and then we arrived at Game 4.
Okay, and you’re seriously not gonna believe what happened next. In the seventh inning — AGAIN — with Hunter Strickland on the mound — AGAIN — and with the Nationals trailing — AGAIN — this not-to-be-believed Harper guy HIT ANOTHER HOME RUN. And not only that, but he did it in Strickland’s home park, and with his team behind by just one run, meaning IN AN ELIMINATION GAME WITH HIS TEAM EIGHT OUTS FROM HAVING ITS SEASON END, this dirt-eating vinegar-drinking apple pie-hating wondrous-hair-having idolater clubbed the dang baseball over the fence. AND HE LOOKED AT THE PITCHER!!!!!!!!! What a jerkhead. He might as well have defecated on Hunter Strickland’s front porch. Right by the petunias.
He also yelled toward the pitcher’s mound from the dugout, with a whole bunch of excitement. “It was definitely noticed by the Giants that Bryce Harper went nuts as he rounded the bases following the homer,” Giants reporter Alex Pavlovic wrote after the game, and gosh, that’s just the wrong time to go nuts, after a game-tying homer late in an elimination game.
And yet the Giants showed parent-of-a-tantruming-toddler-on-a-plane levels of restraint. Not only did they not rush at Harper with baseball bats and poison darts and water balloons filled with urine: They did nothing. Not in 2014. Not in 2015. Not in 2016, either. You’ve never seen such patience. There are dead Tibetan monks who aren’t that patient.
And then finally — finally — Strickland, after three years of superhuman tolerance, forced Harper to answer for his sins with nothing more than a fastball in the hip. The outfielder should have thanked him, and asked for another.
Just to be clear, here are things Harper could have done to have avoided his deserved punishment:
● He could have not hit a home run in the seventh inning of a playoff game.
● He could have declined to watch that home run, possibly with the aid of a handkerchief tied over his eyes, or at the very least by turning his gaze elsewhere, sprinting around the bases while staring into the crowd and then apologizing once he crossed home plate.
● He could have — and should have — offered to let Strickland have his way with him in Game 4 of that series. Maybe he could have batted right-handed to give the pitcher a better chance. Or used just one arm. Or a plastic bat. Or a really long leek.
● He could have struck out on purpose.
● He could have brought sacrifices to the mound to try to make amends for past sins. Like, a dead lamb, or whatever. Or at least a lamb sandwich.
● He could have not hit another home run in the seventh inning of another playoff game.
● He could have not looked at Strickland. Again: handkerchief. Do they make Curly W burqas?
● He could have said something respectful and kind about Strickland after the game, as opposed to what he did say.
“He throws fuego,” Harper said. “I respect him giving me another 3-1 heater. That takes a lot of cojones. To be able to do that, I tip my cap to him.”
● He could have said something humble and self-effacing about his homer after the game, as opposed to what he did say.
“They got the upper hand and they beat us so that homer was nothing,” he said.
The gall. It doesn’t matter that the Giants won both games, and the series, and the World Series. It doesn’t matter that this happened three years ago. It doesn’t matter that 98.3 percent of baseball fans had sort of forgotten that Strickland and Harper both stared at each other real angry-like as Harper rounded the bases, and maybe exchanged some words, and both seemed generally mad at life. None of that matters. Harper hit the homers. Harper yelled. He started it. Strickland just finished it.
Speaking of which, something’s been on my mind. Remember the Georgia state AA quarterfinals in the spring of 2006? I’m sure you do. Facing Buford’s murderous middle-of-the-lineup murderer’s row, a young Hunter Strickland was cruelly touched for back-to-back home runs in the first inning of what became a 9-0 loss. First, a teenage Chase Burnette hit a two-run shot. Then a teenage Cory Allen hit a solo homer. I don’t know where they are or what they’re doing, and I know it’s been 11 years, but I hope they keep their heads on permanent swivels. They homered off Hunter Strickland in the playoffs, and for that, they must pay.
D.C. Sports Bog: This inspired so many memes