WASHINGTON DC — What happens you challenge one of baseball’s brightest stars first with a tongue lashing, then with a short-lived attack in the dugout?
That’s the case, at least, for pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. The Washington Nationals announced Tuesday that their closer has accepted a three-game Major League Baseball punishment for throwing at the head of Baltimore’s Manny Machado and will also sit out four games without pay, as ordered by the team, for his run-in with teammate Bryce Harper.
That adds up to a seven-game suspension — or one more than Washington has left in its disappointing 2015 season.
“The behavior exhibited by Papelbon … is not acceptable,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “That is not at all in line with the way our players are expected to conduct themselves, and the Nationals organization will not tolerate it in any way.”
As to Harper — the baseball wunderkind and MVP candidate who, at 22, is 12 years younger than Papelbon — he was held out of the lineup for one game “because he was involved in a dugout fight,” Rizzo said. His pay was not withheld, though, in contrast to Papelbon.
“He was involved in it,” the general manager said of Harper. “(But) you could see by the way we weighted the disciplinary actions (that) we felt who was more at fault than the other.”
By “it,” Rizzo was referring to an incident during Sunday’s game with the Philadelphia Phillies. Neither team had much to play for at that point, having been eliminated from playoff contention.
Harper was slow out of the batter’s box after flying out to shallow left field in the 8th inning of a 4-4 game. But emotions ratcheted up when he walked back to the dugout and got an earful from Papelbon, who apparently urged him to run the ball out even if he thought he’d get an out.
The young right fielder replied with a few words of his own. Moments later, Papelbon lunged at him — his hands up by Harper’s neck as he pushed him into the back of the dugout.
The scrum was short-lived, as National teammates quickly separated the two men. Papelbon went back to his perch on the dugout steps, while Harper retreated into the clubhouse.
After the game, both players downplayed the incident to reporters. Harper said that Papelbon — his teammate for less than two months, after the Phillies traded him to the Nationals — had apologized and insisted “I really don’t care.”
“It’s like brothers fighting,” he said. “That’s what happens, and hopefully we’ll move forward and do what I can for the next six days to have some fun and play the game.”
Papelbon, who’d emerged as a star with the Boston Red Sox but had less success after signing with Philadelphia before the 2012 season, admitted “I’m in the wrong here” while also characterizing the incident as an in-house squabble.
“I grew up with brothers, he grew up with brothers, (and) I view him as a brother of mine,” he told reporters. “Sometimes in this game there’s a lot of testosterone, … there’s a lot of intensity that spills over and I think that happened.”
Yet Rizzo wasn’t so understanding of a flare up that happened in full view of fans and TV cameras.
“We felt that the incident that happened in the dugout was unacceptable,” he said. “And we acted accordingly.”