SAN FRANCISCO – Hunter Strickland stood in front of his locker the moment members of the news media were allowed into the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse Tuesday and answered their questions about the incident that got him suspended.
Not many others were about to stand up for his actions.
Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker called Strickland’s drilling of Bryce Harper on Monday, in apparent payback for Harper’s animated reaction to his two homers off the Giants reliever in the 2014 playoffs, “a selfish act.’’
Major League Baseball appeared to agree.
In handing Strickland a six-game suspension for “intentionally hitting Harper with a pitch, inciting the bench-clearing incident and fighting,’’ MLB clearly assigned him most of the blame for sparking a fierce brawl that featured both combatants taking punches at each other.
Harper, who escalated the confrontation by charging the mound, throwing his helmet in Strickland’s direction and fighting him, was suspended for four games.
Both players appealed the punishment in hopes of getting it reduced and will be allowed to play until the case is resolved.
Harper still sounded bewildered that Strickland would hold a grudge for so long, saying, “It’s just crazy that it even happened yesterday. After three years, to do that, I don’t know what was going through his mind or how upset he was the past couple of years. If he did have a problem with it, he could have talked with me during BP (batting practice) and say, ‘I didn’t like the way you went about it.’ That’s not human nature, I guess.”
Strickland accepted responsibility for hitting Harper but expressed no regret.
“I’m obviously not thrilled about (the suspension). But it’s their call,’’ he said. “We’ll go from there. Whatever they ultimately decide, I’ll own it and take the responsibility.”
Baker didn’t think Harper’s punishment was fair, saying, “Probably only Martin Luther King or Gandhi would have turned the other cheek and not done something reactionary.’’
Of course, no manager would be in favor of losing his most productive hitter. Harper, the 2015 NL MVP, leads the Nationals with 15 home runs, 41 RBI and 44 runs scored.
But both Baker and Harper pointed out the Giants seemed surprised by the plunking, and catcher Buster Posey made no attempt to intercept the irate Harper and keep him from getting to the pitcher.
The lack of reaction evoked plenty of commentary on social media, which Posey declined to discuss publicly. He and Strickland apparently did hash it out.
“I talked to Buster, and I don’t think he needs to explain it,’’ Strickland said. “We’re here to win a game and obviously yesterday got out of hand a little bit.’’
Baker, an old-school type who has been in pro ball for 50 years, said his club would not seek retaliation because he saw the incident as Strickland going rogue, not acting on orders from manager Bruce Bochy or in cahoots with Posey.
“In my mind, it was more of a selfish (act); not a team act but a selfish act on his part,’’ Baker said. “It’s more selfish because he’ll probably never get to come to the plate to where there would be any kind of retaliation.’’
Both managers seemed eager to move past the incident, but Bochy acknowledged baseball code typically calls for a team whose star has been hit intentionally to respond in kind.
“This is why we don’t have our pitchers throw at guys or start things, because that’s what the other team would do too,’’ Bochy said. “So this was a personal thing. Like Hunter said, he definitely wanted to get it (the pitch) in. And sure, you could say it looked (bad), but you don’t know 100%. That’s why you play the game, and you play to win and try to stay away from that stuff.’’
Gallery: Giants-Nationals brawl