SAN FRANCISCO -- A benches-clearing brawl broke out between the Giants and Nationals in the eighth inning of Monday afternoon's 3-0 Washington victory at AT&T Park, and it was almost certainly related to a postseason home run three years ago.
With two outs in the eighth, Giants right-hander Hunter Strickland hit Bryce Harper in his right hip with a 98 mph fastball. Harper immediately pointed toward and yelled at Strickland and charged toward the mound. Harper launched his helmet past the mound before the two started exchanging blows as both benches cleared. Both Harper and Strickland were ejected from the game, and Strickland had to be physically removed from the field by at least three of his Giants teammates -- George Kontos, Mac Williamson and Hunter Pence, who is on the disabled list.
This was the first matchup between Harper and Strickland since the National League Division Series in 2014, when Harper went 2-for-2 vs. Strickland with a pair of home runs, including a long homer in Game 4 at AT&T Park that landed in McCovey Cove. Harper stopped and stared in the batter's box at that home run, raised his hand as he rounded first base and stared at Strickland on the mound.
Harper said none of that was on his mind on this Monday afternoon in May when he stepped into the box against Strickland. But once he got hit, he felt immediately that it was intentional and he said he just saw red.
"I don't want to go on a baseball field and try to fight somebody," Harper said. "Especially when it's somebody that it's in the past. It's so in the past that it's not even relevant anymore. They won the World Series that year. I don't even think he should be thinking about what happened in the first round. He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night. I don't know why he did it or what he did it for, but I guess it happens."
Strickland maintained he only wanted to throw inside and that this was just a coincidence. But he had not hit a batter all season long and had hit just four batters in 156 games prior to Monday across four years of his career.
"Yeah, I can see how that kind of stands in people's minds but that's the past," Strickland said about 2014. "I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he's taken advantage of that. So obviously I'd rather miss in than over the plate."
Giants catcher Buster Posey did not immediately react as Harper charged the mound, saying after the game that it can be dangerous to get in there. And although both benches cleared, there appeared to be no other punches thrown, with both sides focused on separating the two.
"After it happened, I kind of saw Harper point and the next thing you know, he's going out after him," Posey said. "There's some big guys tumbling around on the ground. You see Mike Morse, he's about as big as they come, and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. It's a little dangerous to get in there sometimes."
"It looks bad, so you had two guys that probably don't care for each other much," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's unfortunate, it is. That was a pretty good pile. We're probably lucky somebody on either side didn't get hurt in that situation."
The Nationals clubhouse was surprised Strickland had seemingly held a grudge for so long -- more than 2 1/2 years after their postseason series. Especially considering the Giants won that NLDS in four games over the Nats and went on to win the World Series.
"I think it's way too late for that," right-hander Tanner Roark said. "Maybe he shouldn't have thrown those pitches that get hit out. That's the bottom line."
"I thought completely uncalled for," Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy said.
"Shouldn't really get a 98 mph fastball in your hip for hitting home runs," Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I don't get to fight the pitcher when he strikes me out twice."
After Harper was eventually separated from the pile, Zimmerman held him back by the Nationals dugout. None of the Nationals found any fault with Harper and seemed to think whatever lingered was settled Monday afternoon.
Both Harper and Strickland seem almost certain to face punishment from Major League Baseball. The same is likely true of Pence, who came onto the field while on the DL to restrain Strickland.
"I'm not sure how all that goes," Strickland said about discipline. "That's their decision and obviously I'll take whatever consequences come with it and we'll go from there."
Harper, who was calm and measured after the game, added: "I mean, a baseball's a weapon, and being able to use that to his advantage, that's just what he wanted to do in that situation. You never want to get suspended or anything like that, but sometimes you just have to go and get him.
"You can't hesitate. You either go to first base or go after him. I decided to go after him."