It wasn’t Bryce Harper’s finest 10 minutes.
Back in the Phillies’ lineup Saturday night in New York after a one-game breather in the midst of a profound slump, Harper didn’t take charge on a pop fly to right field in the fourth inning, then disagreed with a foul call on his hard liner over the first-base bag in the fifth. And when he protested again between innings, he got kicked out of the game by first-base umpire Roberto Ortiz.
Harper’s 14th career ejection punctuated the Phillies’ 5-1 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. It was also the picture of frustration for the star right fielder, who is in a 5-for-37 rut and finally seemed to let his struggles at the plate carry over to the field.
“I think he’s really frustrated. And it happens,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s human nature. When you’re so competitive and you expect to do so well, frustration’s going to settle in and it did tonight, and we lost him for the rest of the game and we lost a couple other outfielders.”
Indeed, in falling for only the second time in 12 games, the Phillies also saw Jay Bruce re-injure his left quadriceps and Roman Quinn crash into the center-field wall. Bruce likely will return to injured list, according to Girardi, while Quinn will go through concussion protocol. Kyle Garlick is the only 40-man-roster outfielder at the alternate training site in Lehigh Valley.
But Harper’s blow-up was the enduring image from a rough night for the Phillies. And to hear Harper tell it, the whole thing might not have happened had Ortiz not escalated the confrontation.
With two out in the fifth inning, Harper lined a first-pitch curveball from Mets starter Seth Lugo down the first-base line. It was close, and Harper raised his hands to his head when Ortiz called it foul. (Girardi said the replay confirmed Ortiz’s ruling.)
After grounding out on the next pitch, Harper walked by Ortiz on his way to right field.
“I said, ’Man, I’ve got that pretty fair. What do you think?’” Harper recalled. “It was very like, walking up to him and walking away at the same time, not confrontational at all, not upset about it. I did not think I was going to get the reaction that I got.”
According to Harper, Ortiz said, “No, I don’t even want to hear you. I don’t even want to talk about it.” It went on from there, Harper being held back by second baseman Neil Walker as he told Ortiz to “be professional” and Ortiz shooing Harper away before giving him the heave-ho.
“I said, ’Don’t talk to me like a 5-year-old. Just be a professional with me. Let’s have a conversation,’” Harper said. “And he was like, ‘No, no, no, no, I’m not going to do that.’
“There are times in my career when I go zero to one hundred, I go ballistic, and I say words that I probably shouldn’t be saying on national television and I get very upset. But in this moment tonight, I did not think it was very warranted for him to throw me out when I was not upset about the play call, I was not upset about grounding out. It’s just a bummer.”
But Harper’s defensive lapse in the previous inning may have been even more costly.
With the Phillies trailing, 2-1, starter Spencer Howard hit Todd Frazier with a pitch and gave up a ground-rule double to Jeff McNeil before Andres Gimenez lifted a fly ball to shallow right field. Walker backtracked to make the catch, but wasn’t in position to uncork a strong throw to home plate. Frazier wisely tagged up and scored.
Harper almost certainly would’ve been able to make a stronger throw.
“I saw Neil get under it early and I didn’t want to take him off of it,” Harper said. “Looking back at it, I probably should have and tried to throw that guy out at the plate. But I didn’t even think about taking him off the ball in that situation.”
Said Girardi: “If Harp can get there, that’s a ball that the outfielder has priority and has a better chance of keeping the runner at third base. Bryce didn’t call it, so Walk had to catch it.”
It was one of those nights for the Phillies.
They jumped to a lead on the eighth pitch of the game on Rhys Hoskins’ eighth home run in 72 plate appearances, but didn’t score again. And although Howard’s stuff looked nasty early, he lost the lead in a 27-pitch third inning and was replaced after the fourth by Ranger Suarez, who gave up two runs in his season debut after a bout with COVID-19.
Upon deciding to sit Harper on Friday night, Girardi noted that he had been helping the Phillies win despite his offensive struggles. He noted a heads-up play Thursday in which Harper threw out Washington’s Luis Garcia at first base on a single to right field.
“With those four innings left, I’ve got to be in that game and I want to be in the game,” Harper said. “I didn’t want the confrontation with him. I did not want to get thrown out of the game at all in that situation. There was no negativity in my mind of getting thrown out of the game.