CINCINNATI — Sometimes it feels like every night this season has been Bryce Harper’s night. He’ll homer, more than once if he can, get a key hit in a key moment, walk a couple times, get ejected, whatever. Through the first seven innings, Friday’s game did not seem like one in which Harper would play a memorable role. He did, of course.
Stephen Strasburg left the game in the second inning, injured and frustrated, so that was the story. The Nationals lost 5-2, so that was another. By the seventh inning, Harper was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. He’d been downright quiet. Then Reds reliever Tony Cingrani hit him in the back with a first-pitch fastball.
Harper stood around for a moment, flipped his bat away and lobbed his ankle guard toward the dugout, frustrated. Then he walked to first, at what seemed a pointedly slow pace. By the time he got to first base, Reds first baseman Joey Votto had some words for the young right fielder. Cingrani was not happy, either.
“I threw it as hard as I could and it ran up and in and hit him. What are you going to do?,” Cingrani said. “He should have jogged, but what are you going to do? Be a baseball player. Sorry I hit you, run.”
Harper and his manager, Matt Williams, both said after the game they thought the pitch just got away, and did not suggest any suspected intent. As for his conversation with Votto, Harper dismissed it as “some playful conversation.”
Two innings later, Harper came up against dominating Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the top of the ninth. Chapman threw him a 102-mph fastball. Harper hit it up the middle. The strategy, he said, was “close your eyes and swing.”
“That guy, he’s tough out there,” Harper said. “He throws a 92 mile-per-hour cutter, 102 miles per hour, I mean he’s definitely very tough out there, and I was trying to square something up, not do too much, because the bigger you get against him, the worse it gets.”
According to the Web site BaseballSavant.com, that is the fastest pitch anyone in the majors has hit this year.