Real or not? The costly luxury of Bryce Harper’s antics

NEW YORK — Let’s put it this way: Nobody looks better when he’s getting ejected from a game than Bryce Harper:

Harper was ejected for the 12th time in his career in the Philadelphia Phillies’ 5-1 loss to the New York Mets on Monday, but at least it was a display of modern art worthy of a showing at the Guggenheim. Consider the mechanics of this particular ejection:

(1) It came four batters after Harper had been called out on strikes in the top of the fourth inning. Like a carefully crafted movie script, he simply let the tension build until the moment called for some action.

(2) He let Phillies manager Gabe Kapler spring first out of the dugout, creating added tension and confusion as to what exactly was going on.

(3) Notice that Harper, in his fury to charge after umpire Mark Carlson, slipped on the dugout steps. This could have been a disastrous moment for Harper and the Phillies, a freak injury if he had twisted an ankle or knee.

(4) Kapler shoved him out of the way before Harper can get to Carlson. Again, maybe a lucky break for the Phillies given Kapler is maybe the only manager with the appropriate upper-body strength to hold off Harper.

(5) Harper went out with a blaze of glory, continuing to yell and point toward Carlson, his magnificently coiffed hair on full display.

OK, more seriously, it’s not all fun and games when you lose your No. 3 hitter midway through what was a 2-1 game against a key division opponent. Harper admitted as much after the game.

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“It just can’t happen. In a game like that, against the Mets, division rival, things like that, it just can’t happen,” he said. “For myself and this team as well. We’re a better team with me in the lineup and I gotta stay in that game. These games matter. They matter now, they matter in September.”

Teammate Jake Arrieta, who picked up the loss in the game, admonished Harper after the game: “We need him in right field. I don’t care how bad the umpire is. He wasn’t great for either side. I’m out there, trying to make pitches, he misses some calls, so what. We need [Bryce] out there.”

Kapler was obviously not happy after the game, although he defended Harper and said Carlson’s ejection wasn’t fair. “There was normal chirping from the dugout that is in every dugout every single night,” he said. “It was no different.”

Nonetheless, considering the ejection came four batters after Harper had struck out, the chirping had obviously tested Carlson’s patience. As Arrieta suggested, ultimately the responsibility sits with the player to remain in the game. In the video, you can see Harper still on the top step of the dugout. He could have said his peace as he walked away from the batter’s box and then stewed on the bench.

Of course, Harper isn’t new to ejections. Among active players, only Matt Kemp has more with 14 — and Kemp reached the majors six years before Harper. Yunel Escobar is third on the active list with nine and I’m not sure he’s even still active considering he last appeared in the big leagues in 2017.

Is Harper too much of a hothead? Does he have a reputation with the umpires, fair or not? Hard to say. His 12 ejections have come from 12 different umpires:

Date Umpire Trigger event
8/29/2012 CB Bucknor Call at first base (threw helmet)
5/5/2013 John Hirschbeck Checked swing (threw bat, helmet)
7/13/2013 Hunter Wendelstedt Called third strike
5/13/2015 Rob Drake Checked swing
5/20/2015 Marvin Hudson Balls and strikes
7/31/2015 Jerry Meals Called third strike
5/9/2016 Brian Knight Balls and strikes
8/27/2016 Mike Winters Called third strike (slammed bat)
5/29/2017 Brian Gorman Fighting (threw helmet)
7/26/2017 Chris Segal Balls and strikes
9/20/2018 D.J. Rayburn Called third strike
4/22/2019 Mark Carlson Balls and strikes

Harper didn’t have a ready explanation for this ejection. “I’m usually zero-to-a-hundred anyways, so I feel like all my ejections it’s usually pretty calm and then ‘bam,’ once it happens, try to let it out, I guess.”

But Harper isn’t a young kid anymore. He’s in his eighth season in the majors. He knows questionable calls are part of the game — and the two in the fourth inning weren’t even that questionable. As one of the expected leaders of the team, Harper can’t allow himself to cross the line or give an umpire the excuse to send him to the showers early.

He knows this. “I have to stay in that game for the organization, the fans. I have to do better,” he said.

The Phillies went down quietly after the ejection as well, with Mets pitchers retiring the final 16 batters in a row as the Phillies dropped their fourth game in five. Harper has to do better on Tuesday, but so do the rest of his teammates.

Elsewhere on Monday …

Arenado’s big night: The Rockies beat the Nationals 7-5, and it was the Nolan Arenado show. He hit two doubles, a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning for his 1,000th career hit and turned a slick 5-3 double play to end the game. Here’s the home run:

Arenado got off to a terrible start with no home runs and six RBIs through the team’s first 15 games. Not coincidentally, the Rockies started 3-12. Over his past seven games, however, he has gone 10-for-28 with four home runs and nine RBIs, and the Rockies have won seven of eight — losing when he sat out against the Phillies on Saturday.

Cardinals beat up Brewers pitching: The Cardinals turned a 5-4 lead into a 13-5 victory with seven runs in the seventh inning off the back end of the Milwaukee bullpen. The seven runs came courtesy of some 1980s-style Cardinals baseball: hits and walks, not home runs. The rally:

Earlier in the game, Paul Goldschmidt slugged his ninth home run and Dexter Fowler hit his first on his way to a 4-for-5 night. Fowler is hitting .313/.403/.433 and even playing center field again with Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill on the IL. Is he back after a terrible 2018? I’m not quite so sure. We don’t have updated Statcast numbers after this game, but heading into it his average exit velocity was actually lower than last season and he had been credited with zero barrels. He presumably has one after his home run and just seeing that “.313” mark next to his name has to do something for his confidence.

By the way, if it seems like relief pitching in general has been worse this season, it has. Bullpen ERAs are up, from 4.07 to 4.39. Starters’ ERAs, meanwhile, are almost the same, 4.19 in 2018 and 4.21 in 2019.

Pirates suffer double loss: Joe Musgrove was sailing along with a 4-1 lead in the seventh inning when he allowed a walk and a single and Clint Hurdle went to the bullpen. Kyle Crick entered and J.R. Murphy reached on a bunt single and Blake Swihart reached on an infield single and the floodgates opened as the Diamondbacks would score seven in the inning and four more in the eighth.

Worse, reliever Nick Burdi crumpled to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch in the eighth. Burdi had reached the majors last year after coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2017 and had been looking like a key cog in the Pittsburgh bullpen with a 17 strikeouts in 8⅓ innings entering this game.

The Pirates said Burdi had right elbow and biceps pain. “It’s really quiet right now around the whole clubhouse,” Musgrove said after the game.

Polanco punishes Astros: The Twins are starting to look more and more like a team that will give Cleveland a run in the AL Central. They beat the Astros 9-5 as Jorge Polanco went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, including this line-drive home run:

Polanco is up to .392/.452/.716 with 13 extra-base hits. Unlike Fowler, the advanced metrics support the hot start with a higher exit velocity and hard-hit rate than last season. He also has been getting the ball in the air more (31.7 percent fly ball rate compared to 19.3 percent in 2018). With Byron Buxton hitting and Jonathan Schoop off to a solid start, this lineup runs pretty deep. Heck, Jason Castro homered on Monday and their three-headed catching platoon — Mitch Garver and Willians Astudillo being their other two backstops — is hitting a combined .373/.443/.806 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs. So, as good as Polanco has been, the best hitter on the Twins has been the guys behind the plate.

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