Bryce Harper stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth inning on May 29, 2017. Opposite him, San Francisco's Hunter Strickland prepared his pitch.
Except, that pitch never crossed the plate.
Instead, Harper wore the first pitch of that at-bat on his hip, a 98 MPH fastball that surely left a mark, and a series of events was put into motion that cleared all the benches and forced one player into retirement.
But to understand the ensuing madness, and to understand why Strickland even hit Harper in the first place, it's important to go back three years to Oct. 7, 2014...
It was the fourth game of the NLDS between San Francisco and Washington. Harper went yard against Strickland for a second time in the series, this time a game-tying knock into McCovey Cove outside AT&T Park.
During Game 1 at Nationals Park on Oct. 3, Harper rode a 97-mph fastball from Strickland deep to right field (445 feet deep to be exact) in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Needless to say, Strickland wasn't too happy about the homer, nor the way Harper stood in the box, then strode around the bases, pretty clearly glaring at Strickland between first and second base.
Between Harper's two home runs and the hit-by-pitch, Harper and Strickland exchanges their opinions (via. the sports journalism industry, because of course). Harper was tired of baseball's "unwritten rules" hindering individual expression (like pimping a home run, etc.), while Strickland said it wasn't his "place to judge the rules."
And so, on May 29, 2017, Strickland attempted to enforce those "unwritten rules" by hitting Harper, while Harper tried to fight for himself and charged the mound.
What followed was nothing less than a total mess. Harper's way off-line helmet throw went down as one of the funniest Harper incidents to that point. The benches-clearing brawl left Strickland with a six-game suspension and Harper with a four-game suspension, plus former National Michael Morse with a career-ending concussion.
In a Feb. 2018 interview, Strickland tabbed the "Harper incident" as a mistake.
Just over a year later, Harper signed a then-unprecedented 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies.
Then, at the trade deadline the Nationals acquired Strickland from the Mariners in exchange for minor-leaguer Aaron Fletcher.
The two teams face off for the first time since the trade deadline on Monday, the opener of the five-game series in Washington, as the Nationals fight to maintain their position atop the NL Wild Card race and the Phillies clamber for a last-ditch grasp at a Wild Card bid.
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