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Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland, antagonists in baseball's 2014 playoffs, were at the center of an ugly brawl in the eighth inning of the Washington Nationals-San Francisco Giants game Monday.
After getting the first two outs of the eighth with the Giants trailing 2-0, Strickland hit Harper with a first-pitch, 98-mph fastball in the thigh.
The 2015 National League MVP immediately barked at the 6-4, 220-pound reliever, pointing at him with his bat. When Strickland didn't back down, Harper flung his helmet at him, missing badly, and charged at him.
The players exchanged blows near the mound for a few seconds before Strickland was knocked to the ground by a wave of players and coaches from both sides, amid much pushing and shoving.
It took teammates Mac Williamson, Hunter Pence and George Kontos to drag Strickland off the field. Harper remained standing and was ushered to the dugout by teammate Ryan Zimmerman.
The history between them dates to the NL Division Series in 2014, in which then-rookie Strickland served up home runs to Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera in the seventh inning of Game 1, then later said he would throw them fastballs again. In Game 4, Harper again took Strickland deep and took his time rounding the bases while yelling at Strickland. Those were the lone plate appearances for Harper vs. Strickland till Monday.
Harper seems to be on an MVP mission again this year, coming into the game with a .337 batting average, 15 home runs and 41 RBI for the NL East-leading Nationals.
Strickland relied on the standard pitcher alibi: He was trying to pitch inside and "obviously got it in a little too far." He said he didn't expect Harper to charge the mound and had to adjust quickly. "It's go time," he said. "It's just you have to protect yourself and stand your own ground."
Though knowing there might be collateral damage, Harper didn't hesitate and admitted he was startled Strickland hit him.
"When somebody comes at you like that and throws a 98 mph fastball where he did, I wasn't very happy with it and took it into my hands," he said. "A baseball's a weapon, and to be able to use that to his advantage, what do you want to do in that situation? You never want to get suspended or anything like that, but sometimes you just have to go get 'em. You can't hesitate. You either go to first base or go after him, and I decided to go after him."
The Nationals won 3-0.
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