Flash back to late September 2015. The lowly Phillies are visiting the Nationals for an afternoon game. It’s tied 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning when outfielder Bryce Harper steps up to the plate to lead off the inning against reliever Dalier Hinojosa. With a 1-2 count, Harper skied a fastball to shallow left field. He did not appear to run hard out of the box.
When Harper returned to the dugout, teammate Jonathan Papelbon, who got the final out of the top half of the eighth, started barking at him. Papelbon was not happy that Harper wasn’t running hard out of the box. Words turned into shoving, and shoving turned into Papelbon choking Harper.
The Nationals went on to lose 12-5, in part because Papelbon gave up a tie-breaking two-run home run to Andres Blanco in the top of the ninth.
The two, though, have mended fences since then and there have been no further issues. Reliever Drew Storen, then a teammate of Harper and Papelbon’s and now a Red, was asked about the two when he appeared on MLB on TuneIn’s “The bullpen with David Aardsma” last month. Specifically, he was asked who would win a “legit fight” between Harper and Papelbon.
As Scott Allen of the Washington Post reports, Storen said, “I gotta take Pap. This is a shot in the dark because I don’t know either’s fighting ability, but the one thing about Pap, when I saw him in person in the clubhouse, as opposed to on the field, he’s a really big guy. I later found out that he got recruited to play tight end at Mississippi State along with playing baseball. He’s a very big human being, so just from that principle alone, I’m going to take the size. And he’s got the eyes, he’s got the look that he knows how to fight.”
Allen points out that Papelbon is listed at 6’5″ and 230 pounds while Harper is listed at 6’3″ and 215 pounds.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.