This afternoon’s series finale will undoubtedly be filled with added drama beyond the minimal chances both teams have of making their way to the playoffs. All eyes will be on whether the Orioles choose retaliation after Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon plunked Manny Machado in the ninth last night.
Papelbon never admitted to purposely hitting the star third baseman, but his intentions seemed fairly clear to the Orioles. Machado, whose massive two-run homer off Max Scherzer in the seventh was the eventual game-winner, was steaming after the game.
“That’s just bull****,” Machado said of Papelbon’s actions. “It’s coward stuff.”
The problem for the Nationals is it leaves star slugger Bryce Harper vulnerable as a potential target if the Orioles choose to return the message.
“I mean Manny freaking hit a homer and walked it off and somebody drilled him,” an irritated Harper said last night. “It’s pretty tired. It’s one of those situations where it happens. I don’t know. I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.”
As far as the battle between Scherzer and Machado in the seventh, Harper simply tipped his cap to another one of the game’s young phenoms.
“I mean Manny had a great at-bat. I think that’s what All-Stars do,” Harper said. “They go up in 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.”
Harper, who leads the National League with 41 homers, had a chance to answer back when he led off the eighth. But with the opportunity for one violent swing to tie the game, Harper chose a puzzling approach - attempting to bunt. The slugger fouled off right-hander Mychal Givens’ changeup for the second strike, falling down 1-2. Givens then came back with a heater, but Harper’s full hack missed for strike three.
Nationals manager Matt Williams was asked after the game if he approved of Harper’s bunt attempt in that late game one-run situation.
“No,” a frustrated Williams shot back. “We need a double there. They’re shifting him. We’ve talked numerous times about it. He did it twice. I want him swinging the bat.”
Harper attempted to explain his baffling strategy after the loss.
“I’m just trying to put the ball in play,” Harper said. “If I lay a bunt down the third base side, it’s a knock all day long. I’m on first base with (Jayson Werth) coming up. So leadoff guy trying to get on base and do what I can. But I understand where he’s coming from with that.”
Harper hasn’t received many opportunities through the first two games of the series, going 0-for-3 with five walks and a strikeout. Certainly plenty of interest will be focused on how the Orioles choose to deal with Harper later today.