What could be more surprising from this week’s series with the Washington Nationals than the Orioles getting the sweep in D.C.? For me, it’s the fact that I came away with a greater appreciation and respect for Bryce Harper. The heated three-game set left me thinking less about rivalry and more about respect, starting first and foremost with the Nationals’ young superstar. Go figure.
If you’re not a Nationals fan, it’s easy to dislike Harper. He’s a classic case of the guy you would love to have on your team, but whom you love to hate when he’s not. His prodigious talents are undeniable. However, the endless - and, it’s fair to say at this point, deserved - hype from the time he was a teenager, combined with his brazen demeanor make him an easy target for opposing fans.
I was prepared to pounce on any red meat Harper might toss out following Wednesday’s beanball game. Surely, he would offer up some defense of his teammate for plunking Manny Machado and suggest that it was accidental or, worse, appropriate. Instead we got a reasoned response from the 22-year-old.
Harper described the beaning as “tired” and lamented the fact that he would likely be hit in retaliation the following day. Meanwhile, he was complimentary of Orioles players, including Machado.
“Manny had a great at-bat,” Harper said. “I think that’s what All-Stars do. They go up there in those situations with a 2-2 count and hit a 98 mph fastball to left-center. He punished it. That’s a great at-bat by Manny and he got us tonight.”
I want to be that reasoned baseball fan who puts emotion aside and simply appreciates the game’s greats regardless of the impact on my favorite team. Honestly, that’s not me. I get emotional, I overreact, I blurt out stupid things. Perhaps it’s my own emotional responses that make me appreciate when a guy can put it aside himself. I’m not even playing the darn game.
I mentioned Harper’s age earlier because his sentiments are wise beyond his years, and that’s far from a given at this level. We’ve seen Machado be temperamental as part of his own development as a big league superstar. We watched a veteran closer in Jonathan Papelbon continue a career-long routine of baseball buffoonery. And then there’s another fan favorite in Baltimore, David Ortiz.
Consider a sampling of Ortiz’s beanball related rants throughout the years. He declared, “It’s a war,” after David Price hit him with a pitch in 2014, presumably in response to Ortiz’s multi-homer game off Price in the 2013 playoffs. Ortiz ever so charmingly accused Price of “acting like a little girl” and “a little b----.”
The latter phrase is a go-to for Ortiz, who in a 2011 incident with the Orioles’ Kevin Gregg justified his decision to rush the mound following inside pitches and some jawing by the pitcher by declaring “I ain’t gonna take that like a little b----.” Of Gregg he said, “You’re going to act like my daddy? I ain’t gonna take that.”
When it comes to beanings, Harper has bypassed that kind of machismo in favor of maturity. Sure, he wasn’t the one hit with a pitch on Wednesday night. He was in 2012 when Cole Hamels admitted plunking him as a way of saying “Welcome to the big leagues.” Harper, then 19, took his base, legged his way to third on a subsequent single and stole home. Afterward, Harper said “Hamels threw a great game tonight.”
Harper continues to watch his MVP season go to waste as the Nationals compile missed opportunities and move further away from postseason contention. He has abundant reason for frustration and had ample opportunity to release that frustration on Wednesday night. Instead, he rose to the occasion. I can respect that.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.