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The Monday Takeaway

Way back in the summer of 1990, my best friend saw Days of Thunder without me. And it wasn’t just that she saw it without me. She saw it with a girl who was a rival of mine and they saw it together after my best friend told me that we would see it together. Well, guess what? It’s 2017, I still haven’t seen Days of Thunder, and I’m still annoyed that my best friend not only went without me but went with my semi-rival.

Hunter Strickland also knows about holding a grudge. Back in 2014, Bryce Harper hit two monster home runs off the Giants reliever in the NLDS—in Games 1 and 4—and Strickland never forgot about. After nearly three years—and even after Giants World Series win—he decided to "settle" the grudge by hitting Harper with a pitch on Monday afternoon.

The Nationals were up 2-0 in the top of the eighth inning, there were two outs, and Strickland decided to unload a 98 mph fastball on Harper, hitting the slugger on his right hip. Harper, who already hit a home run in the game, immediately let Strickland know that he wasn’t exactly pleased with his actions, Strickland let Harper know that he didn’t care that Harper didn’t like it and then all hell broke loose.

Harper threw his bat down, approached Strickland, and—as it looked like he was going to throw his helmet at Strickland and as the reliever turned away, preparing for the impact—threw the helmet way off toward the foul line like he was 50 Cent throwing a first pitch at CitiField. The two players clumsily traded punches, only landing a couple of them, and then their teammates got involved.

As the brouhaha continued, a pile of bodies formed in front of the mound. Harper somehow escaped relatively unscathed. Strickland was so fired up that he had to be restrained by what looked like five teammates who forced him back into the home dugout and held him there for a few minutes. Harper was held back at one point by teammate Ryan Zimmerman, who kept him by the visiting dugout.

The melee caused a delay, and both Harper and Strickland were ejected from the game. Brian Goodwin replaced Harper and ended up scoring the Nationals’ third run. Isn’t that always the way? After the game, Strickland denied that he was throwing at Harper and claimed he was only throwing inside. No one actually believes him; no one watching the game, no one working the game, and no one playing the game.

Quick Hits

David Price returned to the Red Sox on Monday and made his first start of 2017. Things were looking good when he struck out his first batter of the season, Tim Anderson, and set the White Sox down in order in the first inning. Then Price surrendered two walks in the third, which set up a two-on, one-out situation for Melky Cabrera. Price threw a first-pitch, two-seam fastball that was clocked at 95.3 mph. It was over the plate, a little inside, and Cabrera turned on it. The Melkman delivered a three-run shot to put the White Sox up 3-1.

Boston would tie the game in the next inning and take the lead in the fifth, but the White Sox mounted their own comeback and ultimately won the game, 5-4. Price pitched five innings. He gave up those three runs on two hits, two walks, and he struck out four. He also hit two batters. He didn’t factor in the decision. The most important thing for him and for the Red Sox was that he felt healthy after his performance.

***

Okay, let’s just say it. The Astros are insane right now. They were down 8-2 to the Twins in the eighth inning at Target Field on Monday afternoon and when their half of the eighth inning ended, they were winning the game 13-8. But they weren’t even finished. They scored three more runs in the top of the ninth and scored a total of 14 unanswered runs against the poor Twins, who could do nothing more than shrug their shoulders when all was said and done.

The Astros have won five straight, and during that streak Carlos Correa is 12-for-21 with five multi-hit games. And here’s a tidbit from MLB.com that made Twins fans cringe when it flashed on their phone screens: The Astros were 0-659 all time when trailing by at least six runs to start the eighth inning before yesterday’s game. As for the Twins, they can’t seem to win at home. They’re 12-16 at Target Field and 14-5 on the road. They’re also still clinging to a one-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central.

***

Aaron Judge hit his league-leading 17th home run in a 3-2 Yankees loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards (home to the first BP Ballpark Event of 2017, on June 17). Orioles starter Dylan Bundy, who won his sixth game of the year, surrendered the dinger to Judge on a belt-high fastball that was over the plate a bit too much.

Eight of Judge’s home runs have gone at least 425 feet. All of the other Yankees have seven such home runs combined. Yesterday’s shot went 429 feet. All rise, indeed.

***

Albert Pujols bashed home run no. 598 on Monday night against the Braves. He’s two away from becoming the ninth player in history to reach 600 home runs and the first to do it since Alex Rodriguez in 2010.

Pujols is now 11 away from tying Sammy Sosa for eighth on the all-time home run list.

***

Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija. Ouch. This GIF is mesmerizing and I cannot stop watching it. Every time they smash into each other, I keep hearing the noise that’s used in cartoons when people knock their heads together. And Bryce Harper doesn’t know what to do. I do like the spin move, though.

***

Defensive Play of the Day

Mariners catcher Mike Zunino makes the play on a bunt as he spins and falls to the ground. Pretty nifty.

The Mariners beat the surprising Rockies at home, 6-5. The Rockies still lead the NL West and are 33-20. Who saw that coming? No one did. You’re lying.

***

What to Watch on Tuesday

Chris Sale (5-2) makes his triumphant return to the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field against the White Sox. He will be facing off against Jose Quintana (2-6) who hasn’t had a great start to his 2017. He has a 4.82 ERA, a 4.12 DRA, and his cFIP is 95. Meanwhile, Sale is pitching like Chris Sale and has a 2.34 ERA with a 1.40 DRA and a 61 cFIP. It’s not even June 1—yes, I know it’s close, but humor me—and Sale is already at 101 strikeouts, and with the way he’s been pitching you can tack on at least another 8-10 before this month even ends. Sale is like a strikeout robot.

The matchup out in San Francisco on Tuesday night will be interesting no matter who is pitching just because of what happened on Monday. Gio Gonzalez (3-1) and Jeff Samardzija (1-6) just happen to be the starters and it will be intriguing to see what unfolds and if anything else happens between the Giants and Nationals. Hopefully, there won’t be any spillover into Game 2 of the series and they can just have a clean contest.

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tearecrules
5/30
The loss of Byron Buxton probably cost the Twins that game. The hit which brought in the tying and winning runs clanks of Rosario's glove; Buxton almost certainly catches it to end the inning with the Twins only surrendering 5 runs rather than the 11 they would eventually give up. Also, on an occasion where Correa and Buxton are implied, and Zunino mentioned explicitly, any chance y'all could take a commenter's suggestion from the 2012 Redraft article and relook it now 5 years later? One of my favorite features from Football Outsiders is their examinations of drafts years down the line, and I think that sort of long-term look back is something y'all are missing. Also, I'd love to see if someone would make a case for picking Zunino ahead of Correa again.
tearecrules
5/30
ESPN had an interview with Eduardo Perez on the Harper-Strickland Affair and he was talking about how MLB was going to come down hard on Harper. That seems insane to me. Harper took a 98 MPH fastball off his hip because of something he did almost 3 years ago. Even if "throwing a baseball at someone" was a proportional response to "show-boating after homerun", the time to do it isn't years after the fact. If MLB wants to be as serious about reining in "retaliation" as they talk about being Strickland should probably be looking at a significant suspension and the Giants should get to play that suspension losing the roster spot Strickland takes up. Posey stood at the plate and made no effort to come between Harper and Strickland; he knew what the intent of that pitch was. It is an organizational problem and one which cannot be addressed by the league if they suspend the assailant for only a game or two.
bhacking
5/30
The thing I'm most surprised by is baseball has put in rules to improve player safety when it comes to catchers and middle infielder slides, but is basically turning a blind eye to pitchers who are throwing harder than ever throwing at batters. Let's hope it doesn't take a serious injury from them to make a change like it did with the Utley slide rule.
tearecrules
5/30
I noticed that Carlos Correa and Marwin Gonzalez have both started wearing the face/cheek protector which Stanton started wearing after he took one off the jaw. Honestly though it's going to take a serious injury for them to take action. The pro sports leagues just never take this sort of prophylactic action without a very obvious injury (CF NFL rules about diving at the QB knees after Brady went down with a torn ACL a few years ago).
bhacking
5/30
Josh Donaldson is wearing one since his return as well.
ramtax
5/30
If you look at the replays of the two Harper homers of Strickland in '14, you see that he doesn't showboat at all. He watches both for a few second because they were both down the line and possibly could have hooked foul. Then he puts his head down and rounds the bases. On the second one, it seems like he hears Strickland and looks at him but he doesn't appear to say anything. And even if he had showboated a little, hello, he just his a big bomb in the postseason. Is he not supposed to celebrate a little? Sheesh. Strickland is a pathetic, chickensh*t and ought be be suspended 20 games. Harper has to go for 5-7 games for charging the mound and throwing his helmet at Strickland -- I think that was his intent and it slipped out of his hand.
tearecrules
5/30
Just to be clear, when I made the comment I had no idea whether Harper did or did not try and show Strickland up. I'm assuming the "unwritten rule" that the pitcher can hit a batter, or a batter's teammate, after they "disrespect" the pitcher. It's a stupid rule as-is, but it's beyond words stupid that something which happened years ago predicated this. It's not even something where the Nats and Giants don't face each other often. THey get at least two series a year. If MLB is at all serious about the issue of retaliatory HBPs then they need to come down hard on Strickland and the Giants. I don't even know what the punishment should, or could, look like. It reminds me a lot of the Vontaze Burfict hit on Antonio Brown; just vicious, dangerous, and wholly uncalled for.
SkeedTom
5/31
Strickland's ball was not even anywhere near Harper's head. Harper slow walked and flipped his bat in 2014. Strickland throws an inside pitch nowhere near Harper's head. Harper overreacted, and should have been suspended at least as long as Strickland. It never ceases to amaze me that people are defending Harper even though he threw a hard object at Strickland. There is no good guy here buy hey, it's 2017 so people think the star should get the benefit of the doubt even if they do the same thing the "scrub" did. I would imagine these comments would look much the same after Machado's attempted murder of Donaldson that was OK because he was a star.
tearecrules
5/31
Nice to have you here with us Mr. Strickland. How is Hunter? As amazed as you are that people are defending Harper's reaction, I'm much, much, much more amazed at people who think a slow walk and bat flip (assuming that is even a fair assessment) 3 years ago justify hitting someone with an object traveling 98mph. Good for Strickland not trying to seriously injure another person by intentionally throwing said 98mph pitch at the head. Real profile in courage choice there. I don't think anyone here is even defending Harper, I know I wasn't. He charged the mound, threw some punches and a helmet, he deserves a suspension. I'm just shocked that MLB takes such a lax attitude towards players who are intentionally trying to hit other players.