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Significant moment No. 5: Beanball war with the Braves

Dec 27, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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As we count down the final days of 2013, we are counting down the 10 most significant moments of the year for the Nationals. These aren’t necessarily positive (or negative) moments, and some didn’t even take place on the field. All, though, were significant in the big picture and defined the Nationals’ year. We continue today with significant moment No. 5: The beanball war that escalated between the Nats and Braves in August…

The Braves owned the Nationals in 2013, there’s no getting around that fact. What was expected to be a compelling race for the NL East crown instead turned into a rout, with Atlanta firmly in control from start to finish and at one point opening up a commanding 15 1/2-game lead on Washington.

Separation in the standings or not, there was legitimate bad blood between the two clubs all season, and those hot tempers boiled during an 11-day stretch in August that left some lasting memories for all involved.

It all began Aug. 6 at Nationals Park, when Bryce Harper — two innings after launching a mammoth home run to center field and perhaps admiring his handiwork a bit too much — was plunked in the hip by Braves starter Julio Teheran. Harper, none too pleased with what appeared to be a purpose pitch from Teheran, took two steps toward the mound and began jawing at the right-hander.

That prompted both teams’ benches and bullpens to empty, and though no actual punches were thrown, the tension between division rivals was all too clear.

Harper later admitted he would have full-on charged the mound and put Teheran “six feet under” if not for the lopsided state of the NL East standings at that point.

“I mean, 14 1/2 games down, and I need to be in the lineup,” the 20-year-old slugger said. “He’s got to do what he’s got to do. And it’s part of the game. If I walk-off on somebody and he wants to drill me, I’ll let him drill me and I’ll stand on first base and say some choice words and get over it.”

No matter how Harper responded, the Nationals figured to retaliate at some point, but it didn’t come that night during yet another frustrating, 2-1 loss, or the next night during a 6-3 loss that left the Braves a perfect 6-0 in D.C. for the season.

The two teams met again at Turner Field the following week, though, and that’s when the beanball war was renewed. Harper was hit twice by Atlanta pitchers during the series opener, including an up-and-in fastball from Luis Avilan that forced him to sit out the next night’s game due to a bruised upper left arm.

When Stephen Strasburg took the mound Aug. 17, tensions remained high. And sure enough, Strasburg plunked Braves slugger Justin Upton in the hip in the bottom of the first inning, exacting some revenge on behalf of his teammates.

Then things really turned bizarre. Strasburg lost all semblance of control the next inning, firing seven consecutive balls, the last two behind Andrelton Simmons’ back. Intentional or not, plate umpire Marvin Hudson (who had issued blanket warnings after the first inning) had no choice but to eject both Strasburg and manager Davey Johnson.

“Just a couple long innings right before there,” Strasburg explained. “Just got a little cold. Just missed some spots. … I can’t really explain it. Just didn’t really feel good out there and couldn’t hit the spot.”

This much was certain: Strasburg’s actions earned him kudos within the clubhouse.

“Whether it got away from him or not, he’s got my respect,” Adam LaRoche said. “I was impressed.”

The beanball war did nothing to help the Nationals dig out of their massive hole in the NL East. The Braves cruised to the title with ease.

But those 11 days in August were significant. We saw how Harper was viewed by the Braves roster. We saw how Strasburg responded to the situation. And we saw the escalation of a division rivalry that figures to remain heated in 2014 and perhaps beyond.

  1. Joe Seamhead - Dec 27, 2013 at 6:20 AM

    The Nats and Braves are nowTHE rivalry in the NL East. Last year”s shenanigans are not forgotten by all of the players, and the Braves’ “holier than thou” mentality will unlikely be any less with Evan Gattis behind the plate then it was with McCann.

    RIP Paul Blair. Even though I never took the O’s as “my team” I loved watching him play CF.

    • Steady Eddie - Dec 27, 2013 at 8:50 AM

      Joe, you’re right about the rivalry as far as team quality goes.

      But the Braves in general, and McCann in particular, were such jerks last season that the Nats are far from the only team that will put a target on the Braves back in 2014. The Fish (with Fernandez) and the Brewers (with Gomez) are only the most notable examples of teams other than the Nats who are going to come at the Braves with a chip on their shoulders.

  2. nats128 - Dec 27, 2013 at 6:25 AM

    Sherriff McCann. I sure want to erase those pictures from my mind.

  3. trochlis318 - Dec 27, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    This was a pivotal moment of the season for us and in the typical davey style we really didn’t retaliate. We tried to be the better person so to speak but to me what it really showed was no backbone. When you have a situation like this it’s time to take the gloves off and match the enemy blow for blow and show them we aren’t a team that can be pushed around. We send a message next season saying WE DID NOT FORGET. It was blatantly obvious that the braves just had more fire in them last year then we did which is why we had such a pathetic record against them. Think about this if we went .500 against the braves last season we make the playoffs. Matt Williams manages with more fire than davey hopefully the players reflect his attitude. Sometimes it is good to get emotional and super into the game. It’s good to get hyped for a game and not push it off like its any other game. Sometimes we shouldn’t watch while our 20 year old star player is getting hit with beanballs and we try to be the better person. Sometimes we should fight back. Its time to step up and change this year i expect this series to go very differently and to hopefully be even more intense.

    • ArVAFan - Dec 27, 2013 at 8:44 AM

      Yep. Starting with the home opener. Assuming he’s the 4th starter, Doug has a perfect chance to make a good first impression on everyone: fans, teammates, and the Braves. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and I want my revenge on the 2013 Braves in the form of 2014 wins, not 2014 plunkings. Bryce was right at the micro level about him being more useful in the lineup, but at the macro level, at some point enough will be enough and I expect a free-for-all.

  4. ptindc - Dec 27, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    That was real frustrating to watch unfold. I imagine as skipper, Matt Williams would be more “Chicago Way” than Davey’s “turn the other cheek.” In the words of Jim Malone in the Untiuchables: “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!”

  5. originalnatsfan - Dec 27, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    I was angry myself that the Nats didn’t retaliate the first time Bryce was hit. The message needed to be sent then, not down the road.

  6. JayB - Dec 27, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    I love Williams over Davey for 1000 reasons but this is the biggest. He is not going to do nothing……

    This is one of many clear indications that Davey was too old for the job and had lost his fire and passion. Team played that way all year and Johnson had no response to wake them from his self induced sleep walking. Start with NASCAR in the Spring, Danny E and HROD until June….this was just a easy manifestation of the problems, no other team in baseball would wait weeks to respond to what they did to Harper day after day. Braves and most all of baseball was snickering at the Nats and old man Davey.

    Strass was told to hit Justin…but not by Davey (Werth likely out of embarrassment for his lifeless manager) and you can see how uneasy he was with the duty. Had Davey done what Williams will do…hit the next batter in that first game where Harper was hit….there would have been a fight, this year Williams would be the one throw punches if need be….and then it would have been over the next day.

    I will not miss Davey at all………..but I do like the off season Rizzo moves. Need a catcher or two and trade Storen for that. Also just need to cut ties with Danny….lost cause…he will never help this team so trade him in March after a good ST Game for whatever he will bring from a team needing a SS due to injury of a starter.

  7. jd - Dec 27, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    Sorry guys. To continue the war from last year would be plain stupid. If the Braves want to keep doing what they did then I have no doubt that it will be dealt with swiftly and decisively. I know how Matt Williams feels about these things.

  8. Jw - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    A. They weren’t beanballs. Beanballs hit the head.

    B. It wasn’t a war. It was bullying. The umps issued warnings immediately on the first HBP by the Braves, making no retaliation possible. Matt Williams would not have been able to do anything either. His hands would have been tied just like Davey’s were.

    C. This “war” was less significant than even the addition of Bill as fifth racing president. The significant thing was the way the Braves totally dominated the Nats on the field. This sparring did nothing to change. Retaliation by the Nats would not have changed anything either. The retaliation they needed would have been by winning some games.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:07 PM

      +2 on point C.

      • sjm308 - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:36 PM

        I’ll see your +2 on point C and double it to +6 (math is not my strong point!)

  9. ehay2k - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Long time away from. This site (small mercies, everyone!), but have read a few of the main posts and some comments. Like the offseason so far. Better than last year, IMO.
    As for the Barves, they are fake tough. They pushed be a use they knew Davey wouldn’t push back. Not this year. Williams won’t shy away from a good fight, but unlike Fredi, he won’t pick one. And recall (Mark you missed this point in your post) that Upton admired his HR a lot longer than Bryce did his. Upton did the same in Miami and got plunked by a rookie pitcher. They Barves did a lot of talking to the Marlins, but when they acted tough the Fish showed them up for the cowards they are.

    This year the Nats need to do that. They need to play with a chip on their shoulder, not a postseason berth in the bag.

  10. ehay2k - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Really wish we could edit – They pushed us because…

  11. JayB - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Jw….I disagree…so what if warnings are issued…..score of game tells you that there was nothing to lose….not a fan of head hunting…just a fastball to the butt would be fine….so then Williams and scrub pitcher gets tossed in a lost game….what likely would have happened is a fight after that which both teams would have lost players and fines and suspensions issued….fine with that too….what were the Nats 15 games out on that day…..Braves lose players too….and Nats do not get the rep of being young cats….which they indeed earned after last year with Davey.

    • Section 222 - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      Wait. Score of game tells you there was nothing to lose? The Braves were up 2-1 in the bottom of the 6th. I know we were awful in the late innings, but were you really throwing in the towel at that point? We loaded the bases in the bottom of the 7th.

      Well, ok, after ALR missed that opportunity to tie or win the game with a hit, all six batters in the 8th and 9th struck out swinging.

  12. JayB - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I do agree that it was Bullying by Braves….that is the perfect term for it….Braves knew Davey was done and Nats leader (?) and Bench players were not going to respond. Chad Tracey or Johnny Gomes….you tell me which one has fire?

    As the month went by it became a running joke in baseball….Braves bullied Nats time and time again and Nats leadership (players and manager) did nothing including what would have shut it all down……play hard, with passion and win games.

  13. Section 222 - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    The Braves owned the Nats last year not because of this silly, schoolyard, macho crap but because they just plain were better than us. It started with that very first home series in April. After sweeping the White Sox, the Nats had a 7-2 record, still every bit the favorite in the NL East despite the Braves’ hot start. Then Zim threw away the first game and our slide began. (Talk about a significant moment. Will Zim’s shoulder make the cut?)

    We lost three straight then, and the first two in Atlanta at the end of the month, before finally winning a game against our biggest rivals. Then two more at the end of May including the H-Rod meltdown in a winnable game. Then came that pivotal home series in early August that everyone had been pointing to for weeks as the place where we could turn things around and make a move. Didn’t happen. The Braves did everything we couldn’t do — steal bases (and hold runners on), execute a sac bunt, get a key hit. Their bullpen was lights out, ours wasn’t. We needed a sweep, we got swept. And that, for all intents and purposes, was the end of our season.

    Our record against the Braves at that point? 2-10. If we could have won those first four series, going 8-4, we would have been just two games back, and our 18-9 September record would have meant something.

    The beanball war was a distraction, another convenient excuse for a lousy season. I have high hopes for Matt Williams as a field general, but not because he’s going to encourage retaliation, mound charging, or chest thumping.

    How about just winning baseball games?

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:09 PM

      +2

  14. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    I realize the point of this series of posts is so Mark and Chase can spend two weeks in the Virgin Islands/Barbados, etc. But it really should have run during the World Series. I am not following it; this is the first one I’ve bothered to read — but it is inevitable that each succeeding post — counting down to No. 1, whatever it is — will be more depressing than the one before. I’ve been enthused about virtually every move made in the off season, starting with the Williams hire. But the only gleam of hope I can draw from this article is that things can’t possibly get worse.

    • shawndc04 - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:42 PM

      Well if you’re not reading the articles, how can you comment about how depressing they are?
      Some of them brought back good memories from the season. Additionally, if Mark and Chase are sunning themselves and their families somewhere (although I doubt it), good for them.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Dec 27, 2013 at 2:22 PM

        The point being is this is a depressing topic, and anything deemed more significant will be even more depressing.

  15. Jw - Dec 27, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    The JayBees of the world like to think Matt Williams will be a fighter. Because otherwise he just looks a lot like Manny Acta.

  16. veejh - Dec 27, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    All those wild bean pitches from Stras had me rolling. good stuff.

  17. letswin3 - Dec 27, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Reggie Jackson was intentionally hit many times, and his manager, teammates and opponents normally regarded it as a compliment to his hitting prowess. Even Jackson said that they plunked him because one base was better than 4. Harper could become that kind of respected hitter too, but he was hit this time because he got a little “showtime”, and I’m okay with him having to pay a price for that (it was also probably a learning lesson)……. just play the game and do what you do well, without showing up others. But if the Braves, or any team, decides that hitting Nats (not brushing them back to make the next pitch on the outside corner unhittable) is the thing to do in bullying them, it ought to be on……including retaliation, clearing the benches, whatever it takes to let the world know that this club has backbone and won’t take it. Actually, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if Nats pitchers were to start showing more of a willingness to pitch inside….that got about half the pitchers in Cooperstown an advantage, and it might just move a really good 2014 rotation into one of the truly memorable ones.

  18. JayB - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    222 I know we disagree on this issue and that is fine. Williams = Acta? Not even close….Acta was a single A none prospect. Williams has many years of cred at the highest level….Acta will never get another chance…..2 time loser with way more talent then the records show.

  19. sjm308 - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    Agree with JayB on this one even though Williams has not yet managed a game. There is no way he will sit in the dugout and do nothing as I remember Acta doing most of his tenure here. Did he ever get tossed from a game? Did he even come out to argue a close call? I got to meet him and he was a gentleman but I do not think he brought much passion to the game. I think Williams will be overflowing with passion if I remember his time as a 3rd base coach correctly.

  20. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 27, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    Let me associate myself with those who say the HBP (or ‘beanball’) exchange (or ‘war’) between the Nats and the Braves just wasn’t that significant. The season was lost well before that mid-August brouhaha.

    Amending something I wrote last night, I would add as a significant ‘moment’ the 7 games just before and the 8 games just after the All-Star Break.

    On July 7, the Nats had just finished a sweep of the Padres, were 46-42 and were 4 games behind the Braves. Over the next 15 games, the Nats went 3-12, dropping under .500 and 8 games behind the Braves (that they only lost 4 games in the standings shows you that the Braves weren’t doing great either). That stretch, particularly losing 6 in a row out of the ASB turned a still-salvageable season into the ultimate disappointment it was.

  21. Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 27, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    +1 on “beanball = at the head”

    +1 on “first check the scoreboard, then check your ego”. If the Nats had been the ones who were 15 1/2 games up at the time, and won the division, because they won more baseball games, then several of us would be attributing their success to the mature, adult decision to not get baited into irrelevant distractions.

    I hate losing, on the field or in the parking lot, but one has precisely nothing to do with the other.

  22. Another_Sam - Dec 27, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Theo — right you are. These are spinning as the top 10 downers. Could easily be the other way: e.g. Number 6 — Storen regains his touch after stint in minors. Haha. For me though, the number one downer is well known to readers here. BTW, I am eager to learn Mark’s number one downer, and those of posters as well.

    • Jw - Dec 27, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      #1 has to be Harper hitting the wall. The only question is which wall, Atlanta or LA?

  23. Joe Seamhead - Dec 27, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    Get used to the broken record. Guard your Cherioes and Wheaties before someone comes and spoils themselves in them.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 91 64 --
ATLANTA 76 79 15.0
NEW YORK 76 80 15.5
MIAMI 74 81 17.0
PHILADELPHIA 71 85 20.5
x-Clinched NL East title
Through Sunday's games

NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS

W L GB WCGB
x-WASHINGTON (4) 91 64 --
y-LOS ANGELES 89 67 2.5
y-ST. LOUIS 87 69 4.5
-------------------------
SAN FRANCISCO 84 71 7.0 --
PITTSBURGH 84 71 7.0 --
MILWAUKEE 80 76 11.5 4.5
x-Clinched division title
y-Clinched playoff berth
Through Sunday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
MON: OFF
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
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FRI: Marlins at Nats (DH), 1:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Marlins at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Marlins at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
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