Jake Arrieta is right, Phillies need Bryce Harper on the field

DENVER, CO – APRIL 21: Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper (3) looks towards the scoreboard after striking out during a game between the Colorado Rockies and the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on April 21, 2019 at Coors Field in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

Monday night’s opener of a three-game series at Citi Field in Flushing Meadows against the host New York Mets ended up being more than just a 5-1 loss on the scoreboard for the Phillies.

This meeting between division rivals battling for the early lead in the National League East Division also ended up resulting in some in-game and post-game controversy.

Leading off the top of the 4th inning of what was then a 2-0 game, Bryce Harper struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch after the pitch just prior appeared to be a high fastball from Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz. Harper felt the bat was taken out of his hands, and he was somewhat correct in that assessment.

Rhys Hoskins followed Harper to the plate and banged a solo home run, cutting the New York lead in half at 2-1 and injecting some life into the Phillies. Maikel Franco followed with a walk, and then with two outs, Cesar Hernandez stepped to the plate.

During the Hernandez at-bat, a 1-1 pitch from Matz again appeared to be high. But home plate umpire Mark Carlson called the pitch a strike, putting Hernandez into a 1-2 hole. Carlson immediately tore off his mask, turned towards the Phillies dugout, and gave the classic high-sign, tossing someone out of the game.

It turns out that “someone” was Harper, still upset at his own bad call and now venting his frustration when the same thing happened to Hernandez. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler sprinted from the dugout followed quickly by Harper, and an argument with Carlson ensued.

Despite the opinions of some fans today on social media and radio talk shows, the outburst by Harper did not serve to “fire up” or inspire the Phillies. They would go on to be outscored by 3-0 over the balance of the game. Hernandez would single, but then the final 16 batters for the Phillies would all go down in order. No runs. No hits. No walks. Nothing.

After the game, Phillies starting pitcher Jake Arrieta criticized Harper for getting tossed in such a crucial early-season contest and the rest of his team for not appearing to be mentally or emotionally ready for the game. As quoted by David Schoenfield at ESPN:

We need him in right field. I don’t care how bad (the ump) is, I need him in right field, I need him at the plate and he wasn’t there. So that hurts. He missed some pitches but for both sides. If that’s the case, that happens on a nightly basis usually.”

“The umpire is going to miss some calls. So what? Next pitch. We’ve got a game to play. I’m not happy with the way we showed up today. We need to come out tomorrow ready to go.

Arrieta was absolutely correct. Harper is an emotional leader on this team, and he is also one of the club’s biggest physical offensive forces. When he is not in the lineup, the entire team suffers. His loss didn’t serve to inspire the team, it only removed one of their biggest real threats.

All of this needs to be remembered in context as well. The Phillies were playing a tough division rival on the road. They are already missing two starters in shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Odubel Herrera. They are also missing key super-sub Scott Kingery. Already down three key offensive contributors in a divisional game, they could ill afford to lose another.

For his part, Harper agreed. Per Schoenfield the right fielder responded: “I have to stay in that game for the organization, the fans. I have to do better. These games matter. They matter now, they matter in September.

For Harper it was the 12th time in his career that he has been ejected, his first time as a Phillies player. Known for having a mercurial temper early in his career, he had been lauded over the last couple of seasons for a growing maturity. That was evidenced last season, when he was ejected just once during his final year in Washington.

The issue of Major League Baseball umpires needing a thicker skin is a real one as well. Baseball really needs to do something to alter the ability of a neutral arbiter to eject the actual important players who the fans pay to see from a game over what amounts to the egos of those umpires. But that is a separate issue.

The Phillies need this to be the one and only time that Harper is ejected for them in this current season. The team needs their superstar slugger on the field and at the plate, not back in the clubhouse. That is especially so right now, with the roster depleted and more big divisional games coming in what is sure to be an emotional environment.



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