Closer admits to being in wrong; manager Williams says matter is 'family issue'
By Jacob Emert
WASHINGTON -- With the score tied and the Nationals batting in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday, closer Jonathan Papelbon and right fielder Bryce Harper engaged in a physical altercation in the dugout in what turned into a 12-5 loss to the Phillies.
The Nats were eliminated from playoff contention the previous evening, and Harper is having an MVP-worthy season. Nevertheless, Papelbon could be seen saying, "You've got to run that ... ball out," to Washington's young star.
The verbal exchange continued as Harper entered the dugout. After a few seconds, Papelbon lunged at Harper and placed his left hand around the outfieder's neck. Harper then turned the tables in the brief skirmish, with Papelbon taking a push toward the bench. Teammates and coaches quickly separated the two.
"First of all, let me say, I'm in the wrong there," said Papelbon, who on Monday was suspended for four games by the team, which combined with his dropping his appeal of the three-game suspension handed down by MLB last week ends Papelbon's season. "I've got to leave that up to our manager.
"I've talked to Bryce and told him how we feel and we're on the same page now, which is good. Squash this and [play] tomorrow's game. You know, I grew up with brothers, he grew up with brothers. I view him as a brother of mine. Sometimes in this game there's a lot of testosterone and there's a lot of intensity that spills over, and I think that happened today. For me, I can't allow that to happen in the middle of a game. You handle that after the games or allow the manager to handle that. In that light of it, I'm wrong."
Manager Matt Williams, who is under pressure after the Nationals were unable to meet expectations this season, wouldn't comment on the specifics of the incident.
"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."
Harper was pulled from the game in the top of the ninth. Williams would not say why Harper was removed, but he did say it was not because Harper jogged on the fly ball. Harper said he was expecting to be removed from the game in the ninth anyway, as it was the final regularly scheduled home game.
Papelbon, who had recorded the final out of the top of the eighth, returned to the mound for the ninth and allowed five runs (two earned) in what became an eight-run inning.
"At the time, it's a tie game," Williams said when asked why Papelbon remained in the game after the incident. "That's all I'm going to say on the matter. He's our closer. In a tie game, he's in the ballgame in the ninth inning."
Williams said the Nationals had not decided if they were going to suspend Papelbon, who has appealed his MLB suspension for intentionally hitting Baltimore's Manny Machado with a pitch last week.
After that incident, Harper said he "expected to be drilled" by the Orioles in the following game, but on Sunday all parties denied that the two events are related. Harper chose not to comment on the dugout incident. Instead, he repeated that he was "just worried about the last six games of the year."
Harper did say that Papelbon apologized to him, and when asked about if he had previously fought with a teammate, Harper said he was "usually fighting the other team."
"The dugout stuff, in my opinion, is a non-story," said shortstop Ian Desmond. "That stuff just happens. It's been an emotional couple of days. When the emotions boil over sometimes, it gets the best of us. No blood drawn. We are going to be all right."
Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.