Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper and Nationals reliever Hunter Strickland have quite the history, just not in their current uniforms. In the 2014 NLDS, Harper took Strickland deep twice. The first came in the seventh inning of Game 1, reducing the Nationals’ deficit to 3-1 in a game they would lose 3-2. The other came in the seventh inning of Game 4, a game-tying solo home run which Harper gawked at.
Strickland didn’t like that Harper admired his home run, even though Harper was just as curious as the rest of us at the time whether or not the ball would stay fair. It’s a grudge that Strickland carried for three years as the two players wouldn’t face each other in the interim.
In late May 2017, Strickland finally exacted revenge, firing a fastball into Harper’s hip. Harper charged the mound, starting one of baseball’s most memorable brawls — one that inadvertently ended Mike Morse’s career.
Harper was suspended three games while Strickland was handed a six-game time out. Harper and Strickland matched up again in June last year, but it was uneventful as Harper grounded out.
Today is Strickland’s 31st birthday. Harper, now a Phillie, is in town to face Strickland’s Nationals. Almost a Freaky Friday moment. With the Phillies already having been eliminated from postseason contention in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, manager Gabe Kapler elected not to have Harper start. As fate would have it, however, Kapler pinch-hit Harper for reliever Jared Hughes, facing Strickland. The more things change the more they stay the same. Strickland fell behind Harper 3-0, got a fastball over for a strike, then Harper hit a no-doubt solo home run to close the Phillies’ deficit to 6-5. Harper admired his handiwork, as usual.
In five plate appearances against Strickland, Harper has three solo homers, an HBP, and a ground out. We’ll have to see if Strickland will hold another grudge against Harper. The Phillies and Nationals have two more games remaining in their series, so there’s a chance for some fireworks.