SAN FRANCISCO — Monday's brawl between Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland and Nationals slugger Bryce Harper was not your run-of-the-mill baseball fight.
This particular bout showcased, for all to see, the emotions and animosity you'd only draw from a pair that have had the other on their mind. It took place three years after Harper took Strickland long in the 2014 NLDS, an occasion that took place twice in as many games of that series. The second home run ended in a stare-down between the two men, and a few words exchanged between the dugout and the pitcher's mound.
Monday, Strickland sent a 98 mph fastball into Harper's ribs, it was the first pitch to leave his hand during the at-bat.
Strickland stood waiting by his locker in the Giants clubhouse after the contest, ready to answer the slew of questions reporters had prepared about what had just unfolded. The 28-year-old pitcher denied any intent in the incident.
"Obviously I've left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he's taken advantage of that. It was mostly to go inside and obviously I got it in a little bit too far," he said. "I didn't expect that (fight) but it's part of the game and that's what he decided to do."
Chelsea Janes, who covers the Nationals for The Washington Post, had a much different interpretation of the event:
Harper himself thought he was targeted by Strickland, and said so to the media:
"One thing I've got to say about Strickland: He hit me in the right spot. I do respect him for that. He didn't come up and in at my face or anything like that, which some guys do," Harper said. "So I respect him on that level, because he could've come up and in and got me somewhere you don't want to get hit. He got me on the hip. But there's some times where it's just not relevant. That was a spot where it wasn't relevant. It was three years ago, over 1,000 days. I don't know why he's thinking about it."
Strickland said the events of 2014 had nothing to do with Monday.
"I can see how that kind of stands in people's minds, but that's the past," he said. "Like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he's taken advantage of that. Obviously I'd rather miss in than over the plate."
Normally, in a situation such as this, you'll find the man behind the dish at least attempting to hold back the man in the batter's box as he begins his charge.
Monday, that wasn't the case.
Giants catcher Buster Posey made no effort to stop Harper from charging the mound, almost subconsciously telling those in the stadium and the game's television audience that this was Strickland's battle to fight. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he spoke with the young pitcher after the game, perhaps using the 2014 NLDS incident as a template for the conversation, and said it wasn't the sort of situation to seek retribution.
"We're trying to win a ballgame," Bochy said. "It's 2-0 and I had to talk to him. Obviously we don't take or do things that are out of the ordinary from what I want. We go out there and try to win a ballgame. It's a situation where I needed to talk to him and make sure that we're straight with something. We did talk."