WASHINGTON D.C. -- Hunter Pence's RBI single in the seventh inning on Friday was a sneaky big moment if you're a fan of drama. The run gave the Giants a 9-5 lead, which meant Hunter Strickland was left in the bullpen in the ninth inning, when Bryce Harper was due up third. There was no avoiding a confrontation on Sunday.
Harper led off the top of the ninth at Nationals Park, and Strickland came in with a two-run lead. A little over a year after they came to blows in the middle of AT&T Park, Harper grounded Strickland's third pitch up the middle for the first out of a 1-2-3 ninth.
"Last year is over. I've just got to get the out," Strickland said. "The past is the past. Everybody has moved on and that's part of the job, to get whoever is up there out."
Well, not everybody has moved on. Much of Sunday's crowd departed before the ninth, fearful that a storm was on the way. But those who remained showered Strickland with loud boos as he warmed up. The boos were not as loud, however, as they were when Strickland and the Giants played here last August.
"That's expected," Strickland said, smiling. "I don't blame them."
The matchup never came close to turning dramatic. The first pitch was an 89 mph slider that was up, and Harper fouled it back. Two pitches later, he was headed back to the dugout. Harper did not look back at Strickland and Strickland did not look back at Harper. He returned to the mound and clinched his 13th save, capping off a big day for the bullpen.
Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless sixth against his former team. Sam Dyson breezed through the seventh. Tony Watson struck out one in the eighth. The four relievers combined for four hitless innings and struck out three, continuing a trend. Since Will Smith and Melancon returned, this bullpen has turned into one of the National League's strongest.
"Those guys are tremendous and they're going a great job," Strickland said. "Everybody all year has been doing their part, but to get those guys back, with that kind of experience, is always clutch."