Giants

After fight, Strickland denies intentionally throwing at Harper

After fight, Strickland denies intentionally throwing at Harper

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a certain rhythm to a baseball brawl. A player gets drilled and inches toward the mound, often at the invitation of the man who threw the pitch. The catcher rushes to get in the way as both benches and bullpens clear. Within five seconds, most baseball “fights” turn into a “hold me back” tournament. 

Monday’s showdown between Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper was not your normal baseball fight, in part because it was a long time coming. 

Three years after Harper twice took Strickland deep in the NLDS, the second homer leading to a stare down and primal screams from the Nationals’ best player, the two met again. Strickland’s first pitch to Harper since that series was a 98 mph fastball directly at the hip. Harper charged the mound and both players connected with shots before sanity was restored.

Strickland was waiting for reporters when the clubhouse opened after a 3-0 loss. He denied any intent.

“Obviously I’ve left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. It was mostly to go inside and obviously I got it in a little bit too far,” Strickland said. “I didn’t expect that (fight) but it’s part of the game and that’s what he decided to do.”

There’s no upside in coming out and saying you flat-out tried to hit a guy, but actions spoke louder than words during the fight and afterward. Buster Posey didn’t move as Harper charged his pitcher, as if to say, this is your mess. Bruce Bochy said he talked to Strickland after the fight to reiterate that this was not the situation to seek payback.

“We’re trying to win a ballgame,” Bochy said. “It’s 2-0 and I had to talk to him. Obviously we don’t take or do things that are out of the ordinary from what I want. We go out there and try to win a ballgame. It’s a situation where I needed to talk to him and make sure that we’re straight with something. We did talk.”

Bochy called the incident “unfortunate” and said a couple of times that “it looks bad.”

“You have two guys that probably don’t care for each other much,” he said.  

No, they certainly don’t, but that’s nothing new. This started in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, when Harper, already one of the league’s better hitters, took Strickland, then a rookie, deep. Three games later he hit a game-tying shot into McCovey Cove, watching it as it soared into the dark night. He stared Strickland down as he rounded second and yelled back at the mound as he took his gear off in the dugout. 

It’s unclear why that first incident quite turned out the way it did. There was some speculation that Harper was reacting to Strickland saying after Game 1 that he would throw Harper more fastballs. After the second homer, Harper looked out at the field and yelled, "Let's go! Again!" Either way, nothing more came of that first tussle. The Giants eliminated the Nationals and went on to win the World Series. Harper and Strickland didn’t square off in either of the past two seasons. 

With two outs in the eighth Monday, they finally faced off again. After taking the pitch off the hip, Harper pointed his bat and then flung it down. The players exchanged expletives and Strickland stood with a calm expression on his face, his glove dropped to the ground. Harper threw his helmet toward second and Strickland got the first shot in, an open-handed right to the face. Harper got one good punch in before players from both sides collided on the mound. 

“It’s go time,” Strickland said. “You’ve got to protect yourself and stand your own grand, you know.”

Harper told Nationals reporter that this was probably the first time he was certain a pitcher was going to throw at him.

“One thing I’ve got to say about Strickland: He hit me in the right spot. I do respect him for that. He didn’t come up and in at my face or anything like that, which some guys do," Harper said. "So I respect him on that level, because he could’ve come up and in and got me somewhere you don’t want to get hit. He got me on the hip. But there’s some times where it’s just not relevant. That was a spot where it wasn’t relevant. It was three years ago, over 1,000 days. I don’t know why he’s thinking about it.”

Strickland claimed he wasn’t thinking about 2014, even if the connection was immediate to anyone watching. 

“I can see how that kind of stands in people’s minds, but that’s the past,” he said. “Like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. Obviously I’d rather miss in than over the plate.”

 

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

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AP

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

There was a time when Gary Brown was considered the Giants’ top prospect – their center fielder of the future. Hype was never higher than in 2011, when the fleet-footed 22-year-old set a franchise record with 188 hits in 131 games, earning California League Rookie of the Year honors with the San Jose Giants in his first full minor league campaign.

But six seasons and seven major league at-bats later, Brown’s professional baseball career ended at 28 years old.

“I feel like I let my emotions get the best of me in the years after that (2011 season),” Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area in an exclusive phone interview. “I think I started to believe the hype that everyone started to give to me.”

Brown never matched his magical .336-season in High-A ball with 14 home runs plus 53 stolen bases, and then struggled finding a routine with the rigors of the Pacific Coast League’s travel schedule once he reached Triple-A. Despite three hits in his seven at-bats as a September call-up with the Giants in 2014, Brown was designated for assignment on March 31, 2015.

Brown’s career spiraled playing the draining waiver game. Unsuccessful stints with the Cardinals and Angels sent Brown to the land of the last chance: Independent ball in the Atlantic League.

“It was not fun for me for quite a few years. I wasn’t a very happy person,” Brown said. “After I got DFA'd by the Giants, that really took a toll on me. I never really recovered from that, so I was kind of stuck in the past and things kind of just got away from me. 

“I was kind of heartbroken to be honest. I mean, it hurt me to my core.”

Through tumultuous career turns, the Southern California native never turned on the team that drafted him 24th overall in 2010.

“I'm thankful for the opportunity the Giants gave me. No matter how big or small mine was, I am very thankful” Brown said emphatically. “I definitely wish I could have shown what I feel like my true potential was, but it didn't work out that way. 

“I still root for the Giants. All my friends with the Giants, I'm still pulling for them. They run that organization so well. I have no ill intentions or anything bad to say about the Giants organization.” 

Far removed from his days with the Giants, Brown found new life with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2016. Brown batted .249 and returned to the team in 2017. He started strong with a .298 batting average in 31 games while having fun for the first time in years, but injuries struck at an inopportune time.

Chronic aches in his hip joints and intense back spasms, in addition to a frustrating lack of interest from MLB teams and the fact he and his wife had twins on the way, spurred Brown to retirement in the middle of the season on July 5.

“Retirement has nothing to do with the lack of competitiveness (of the Atlantic League). It was the distance and the time away, matching the minor league salary,” Brown said. “Going back to that makes it really hard on the family and when you get older it really becomes about what you value more.”

The player he once was is gone, but the person he is has only grown. There’s one piece of advice which goes beyond the diamond that Brown was sure to pass on to the next wave of future top Giants prospects.

“Never stop making adjustments,” Brown said ruefully.

Days away from turning 29 on Sept. 28 and out of baseball for the first time in his life, Brown is certainly making his own.

***

Part 2 of our interview with Gary Brown focusing on where he is now in his life will be released Friday on NBCSportsBayArea.com.

Matt Moore blanks Rockies, continues late-season surge

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AP

Matt Moore blanks Rockies, continues late-season surge

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Moore knew there was something different about his final home start at AT&T Park this season, and not just the fact that he received a loud ovation as he walked off the mound in the seventh. Moore noted later that the outing was the first shutout he has been a part of this year. In fact, it was the first time in 30 starts that he walked off the mound without having allowed a run. 

“I guess it’s better late than never,” he said. 

The Giants are hoping it’s actually a preview of things to come. They counted on Moore to be a big part of their 2017 push, but instead, he likely will finish with the worst ERA of any full-time starter in the National League. Still, general manager Bobby Evans has informed Moore that his 2018 option will be picked up, something that Moore appreciated given the time of year. 

“I always pictured myself here,” he said. 

Whether coincidence or some kind of “weight off the shoulders” situation, Moore’s first start since the public revealing of the decision was his most encouraging of the year. Facing a good lineup, and a team that needed a win desperately, he pitched six shutout innings. The Giants beat the Rockies 4-0. 

Moore was already showing signs of life, with a 3.76 ERA over his seven previous appearances. Bruce Bochy viewed this as another step forward. 

“It’s been getting better and better with each start,” he said. “What he did really well today was on the arm side. He had good balance to both sides of the plate.”

Moore peppered the outside corner with fastballs, and he credited catcher Nick Hundley with stealing a few strikes. The plan allowed Moore to put hitters away in big spots, one of three points of emphasis he brought into the second half. The other two: limiting lefties and getting ahead of hitters.

That’s Moore’s roadmap back to being the player the Giants acquired. For the team as a whole, the roadmap back to relevance is similar to Wednesday’s plan. This is not a home-run hitting lineup, but the Giants are 47-21 when scoring four runs, and Wednesday was a reminder of the different paths to that magical number. 

Brandon Crawford had a solo homer, but the first two runs came on sacrifice flies and the fourth on a walk-wild pitch-single combination. Bochy said he liked “the brand of ball” his team played.

“They executed so well today,” he said. “It’s just good baseball, and that’s what I felt good about.”