A day after his team was officially eliminated from postseason play, Nationals manager Matt Williams was forced to deal with two of his most high-profile players fighting in the dugout.
With the game tied 4-4, Bryce Harper - the favorite to win the National League Most Valuable Player award - lifted an easy fly ball to left. As Jeff Francoeur eased underneath the ball, Harper jogged down the line reaching the bag before heading for the first base dugout. Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon was leaning against the upper railing, apparently yelling at Harper, “Run that out.”
Harper shouted back at Papelbon and the argument continued as Harper made his way down the steps into the Nats dugout. With the two standing face-to-face, clearing spitting profanity at each other, Papelbon lunged at Harper, clenching his left hand around the young slugger’s throat.
When the ninth inning began, Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to send Papelbon back to the mound. The veteran reliever subsequently surrendered a go-ahead two-run homer to Andres Blanco before he exited as boos showered down from the stands at Nationals Park.
Williams addressed the brouhaha after the 12-5 loss.
“Well, certainly there is a lot of testosterone flowing among young men competing,” Williams said. “What I can tell you is this: This is a family issue and we’ll deal with it that way. There was an altercation in the dugout and we’ll leave it at that.”
Questioned on why he allowed Papelbon to return to the mound in the ninth, Williams chose a simple response.
“At the time, it’s a tie game,” Williams said. “That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. He’s our closer.
But it appeared that Papelbon placed his hands on Harper’s throat?
“He’s our closer,” Williams responded. “In a tie game, he’s in the ballgame in the ninth inning.”
Williams said Harper didn’t get hurt in the incident, but chose to not reveal why he was pulled from the game, calling it an “internal matter.”
Williams was named the NL’s Manager of the Year in 2014, his first season as a major league skipper. Now his job is in question and he attempts to hold his clubhouse together for the final seven games of the season.
“It’s no fun when stuff like this happens, but it does happen and you must deal with it,” he said. “So that’s what we’ll do.”
At the end of his postgame press conference, Williams was asked if he had a message for the 28, 661 fans in attendance, who were loud throughout the game on a day after his team was eliminated, but then had to witness the embarrassing mess in the dugout.
“Again, it’s competing,” Williams said. “It’s competition. You live six months with folks and you’re going to have things like this happen. We’ll fix it, we’ll deal with it and we’ll get ready to play tomorrow.”