On Sunday at Nationals Park, the Phillies happened to witness the ugliest moment of this disastrous Nationals season. Not surprisingly, it featured the Phillies' former closer.
In the eighth inning of the Phillies' 12-5 win, Papelbon and star Bryce Harper fought in the Nationals dugout. Papelbon had words for Harper when the National League MVP front-runner returned to the dugout after flying out, and when Harper chirped back, Papelbon shoved him against the wall by his neck before teammates separated them.
Matt Williams pulled Harper from the game but permitted Papelbon, who recorded the final out of the eighth, to come back out to pitch the ninth. Asked after the game why, the much-maligned Nationals manager responded: "He's our closer. In a tie game, he's in the ball game in the ninth inning."
The ninth inning that followed wasn't much prettier for the Nationals, who entered the season with World Series aspirations behind their stacked starting pitching rotation. Andres Blanco tagged Papelbon with a two-run home run, sparking an eight-run Phillies scoring explosion. Papelbon was charged with five of the runs, two earned.
After the game, Papelbon wouldn't specify what Harper did that he took issue with, although it was believed to be Harper's not running out the fly ball. Papelbon is already in the process of appealing a three-game suspension for throwing near the head of the Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado on Wednesday night. After that game, Harper was less than thrilled when speaking to reporters, saying: "I'll probably get drilled tomorrow."
Papelbon said on Sunday he was not upset with Harper's comments from after the Orioles' game. The often-controversial veteran owned up to Sunday's altercation, saying: "I'm in the wrong there." Harper, 22, said Papelbon, 34, apologized after the game. The incident occurred a day after the Nationals were officially eliminated from the playoffs, although their season soured weeks before.
"It's just in the heat of the moment," Papelbon said. "We're out there trying to fight for a playoff spot, and it didn't happen. Emotions boil over sometimes, and that's what happens. We're all brothers here.
" ... I think Bryce understands where I'm coming from, and it's squashed and it's good, and we're going to move on."
Harper addressed reporters after Papelbon and said he's "just worried about the last six games of the year." He repeated a similar answer to follow-up questions.
Sunday's game, the final meeting of the season between the Phillies and Nationals, marked the second time since the July 28 trade that the Phillies did damage against Papelbon. Freddy Galvis took Papelbon deep for his first blown save of the season on Sept. 14 at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies, who were watching Williams' postgame news conference in the visitors clubhouse after Sunday's game, need to win four of their final six games to avoid the franchise's first 100-loss season since 1961. Their 59-97 record is three games worse than the next-worst team, the Atlanta Braves. They close the season with a homestand against the division-champion New York Mets and third-place Miami Marlins.
"The ninth was pretty special, man," Jeff Francoeur said. "That was a lot of fun. It's one of those things that ... you dream about those innings when you just blow it wide open. We all stayed with it today. We ended up taking two out of three. We're still grinding away."
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