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Bryce Harper ejected in 11th inning of a crucial game for arguing a called strike three

Bryce Harper barks at home plate umpire Jerry Meals after being called out on strikes in the 11th inning. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

In extra innings of a tie-game against their next closest division rival, the Washington Nationals cannot afford any slip-ups. And in that very situation, Bryce Harper, arguably the league’s best player, lost his composure at an inopportune time. In the top of the 11th of a 1-1 game in New York, Harper struck out looking on a called third strike by home plate umpire Jerry Meals that appeared to be off the plate.

But Harper couldn’t let it go. He shouted and flexed his arms. He stood face to face with Meals and told him what he thought of the call. Meals shouted back and then ejected Harper, his third ejection of the season. Manager Matt Williams came out to talk to Meals but, by that point, there wasn’t much to be done.

“He needs to stay in the baseball game,” said Williams after the game, visibly frustrated, perhaps by the 2-1 walk-off loss, Harper’s ejection or that two relievers were unavailable. “He needs to stay in the baseball game.”

While Harper may have been justified for being upset with the called strike, the Nationals need their best player in the game. Asked what about that call upset him so much, Harper didn’t hold back.

“He called a strike,” he said. “I don’t know. He’d been doing it all night. I told him what I said and that was it.”

Asked if it was hard to keep his emotions in check in a close game, Harper said no.

“I’m sticking up for my team and myself at the same time,” he said. “He was bad all night. I didn’t get up the next inning so nothing hurt.”

That may be true — that his spot didn’t come up again, because the Nationals lost in the 12th on a walk-off homer by Wilmer Flores off Felipe Rivero in his third inning of work — but that’s not the point. The Nationals had to scramble to fill positions on the field after his ejection.

“I want him to stay in every game,” Williams said. “We’ve talked about it. We’ll talk about it again.”

Because Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson had already appeared in the game as pinch-hitter, and Danny Espinosa was the pinch-runner that scored Washington’s only run in the eighth inning, the Nationals bench was down to Dan Uggla and backup catcher Wilson Ramos. So Ryan Zimmerman, briefly an outfielder last season, had to move to left field and Uggla entered the game to play first base for the first time in the majors, and his first time since 2005 in the minor leagues.

“I can pretty much play anywhere,” said Uggla, who used Moore’s first baseman’s glove. “So wherever they need me to go, that’s where I’m gonna go.”

Ian Desmond has served as one of Harper’s mentors in the majors and he had a rosier view of Harper’s behavior this season. Desmond said he wants Harper to stay in the game, too, but was more understanding.

“We do,” Desmond said. “But this is a game. It shows me that he really wants it and is passionate about it. He didn’t check out. He was in it. The emotions got the best of him, which has happened a lot in the past, and this year he has managed to tone that down a lot. I’m proud of him. Obviously not for getting ejected tonight but how he’s handled himself all year with the umpires. But again, it’s a huge improvement so I’m not going to beat him up over one mistake. But obviously talked to him and let him know try to keep it under control next time, which I’m sure he was trying to do.”