In a head-scratching, mistake-filled and gut-wrenching 2-1 walk-off loss to the lowly Miami Marlins, Bryce Harper was ejected for arguing balls and strikes after he was called out on strikes in the eighth inning.
It was an ejection that proved costly for the Nationals. It was also Harper’s third career ejection, two of which have come at Marlins Park. This one, however, came late in a one-run game. His spot in the lineup would come up in the 10th inning of a 1-1 game with two runners on base and only one out, and instead replacement Scott Hairston struck out.
“He can’t do that,” Manager Davey Johnson said of Harper. “Take it out on the pitcher. You can’t take your frustration out on the umpire.”
Harper’s distaste for home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone was most apparent in the sixth inning. Harper jumped ahead 2-0 against right-hander Jose Fernandez and then took a strike down the middle. Then came the pitches in dispute. Wendelstedt called back-to-back strikes on borderline pitches. Harper had a few words for Wendelstedt before he walked back into the dugout.
“The first two ABs I didn’t think he was calling anything on the outside half,” Harper said. “I got 2-0 and Fernandez wasn’t really coming at me. He called a pitch that was right down the middle 2-0. And then it was 2-1. The next two weren’t even close. I really didn’t think they were close at all. Got pretty upset about that one and let it go a little bit.”
The fireworks, however, occurred in the eighth inning. Harper fell behind 0-2 against left-hander Dan Jennings and then fouled off slider. Down 0-2, Harper took a fastball on the top-outer edge of the plate, close to where the final strikes in the previous at-bat were called. This time Harper erupted.
“I knew he was throwing a waist pitch up and I knew he was going to come back with that slider,’ Harper said. “If he wasn’t going to call a strike on that. He called a strike. I wasn’t going to take it. No shot. I looked back at him at gave him a piece of mind and got out what I wanted to get out. He threw me out.”
Asked if he would have wanted to bat in the 10th inning in a crucial point of the game, Harper said Hairston was capable. (Left-handers are hitting .228 against Cishek this season, while right-handers are hitting .150 off him.)
“Hairston might have a better opportunity at Cishek than I do,” Harper said. “Cishek is pretty tough on lefties and Hairston is pretty good up there.”
Teammate Ian Desmond offered pointed comments about Harper’s ejection, arguing that Harper should have controlled his emotions in order to remain in the game.
“We gotta have our three-hole hitter in the game right there,” Desmond said. “As simple as that. The person that hits three-hole is usually your best hitter. One of your best hitters. Usually the best. And there’ s no doubt that his skill set is there. But you cannot in a one-run ballgame. We need that game. That’s the game you have to stay in no matter what. Sometimes you gotta bite your tongue. We all get bad calls called against us. I didn’t look at the replays or anything like that. You gotta stay in the game. You have to. For your team. … He may or may not realize the ramifications of him getting ejected. But hopefully he learns from it and we can move forward from that.”