PITTSBURGH - The Nationals beat the Pirates 6-2 this afternoon, taking two of three from Pittsburgh and wrapping up a winning road trip.
The highlight we'll see all over the national TV highlight reels tonight, however, will involve Bryce Harper, who was ejected in the first inning for arguing a checked swing that was ruled a third strike.
Third base umpire John Hirschbeck determined that Harper didn't hold up his swing quickly enough on a Wandy Rodriguez curveball, and ruled it a strike. Harper responded by throwing his arms in the air with his bat still in his hand.
Hirschbeck imitated Harper's arm movement and started walking down the third base line toward home plate. Harper stared out at Hirschbeck, and according to Hirschbeck, Harper first threw his bat and then his helmet to the ground, which constitutes an equipment violation. After the helmet toss, Hirschbeck ejected Harper from the game.
"I didn't like that he put his hands up with the bat," Hirschbeck told a pool reporter after the game. "That's kind of what I yelled at him. He continued and threw his bat. I kind of pointed like, 'That's equipment.' And then, he still continued and slammed his helmet down. That's when I ejected him."
The way Hirschbeck sees it, he was cutting Harper a break by not ejecting him right after the initial hand gestures.
"I was actually just being nice," Hirschbeck said. "Even the hands up in the air is showing me up, to me. I could have ejected him right then. I was nice enough to leave him in the game. And then he slammed his bat down. And then on top of that, he slammed his helmet. I had no other recourse, really."
Asked about the notion that fans pay to come see Harper play, Hirschbeck responded: "He needs to think of that next time and keep himself in the game. It's not my job. It's his job."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson seemed to have no issue with Hirschbeck ruling the attempted checked swing a strike, and he acknowledged that Harper shouldn't have raised his bat in the air in disagreement with the call. Johnson feels, however, that Hirschbeck was too aggressive with how he handled the situation.
"I got on John a little bit," Johnson said. "He didn't have to walk towards him. ... But Harp's gotta understand that's what happens.
"I don't like to see our guys get thrown out. I told John, 'Just call him out and turn around. Don't keep looking at him.' "
Johnson and Hirschbeck have a bit of a history; Hirschbeck was the umpire that Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar spit on during a game back in 1996. Johnson managed that Orioles team and current Nationals first base coach Tony Tarasco was actually an outfielder on that team, as well.
"He's a good umpire. I like John," Johnson said. "He made the right call (on the checked swing), what can I say? I just wished he hadn't have made it. I never want to lose anybody, like I said, and I definitely don't want to lose my three-hole hitter, first inning."
Speaking in a calm tone after the game, Harper chose to stay out of the fray, repeatedly saying he was happy his ejection didn't end up costing the Nats a win.
"I'm not sure," Harper said, when asked what happened. "I'm just glad we got the W and I wasn't the reason we didn't.
"I really don't have much to say on it. I'm not going to badmouth anybody or say anything I shouldn't say. Like I said, I'm glad we got the W today."