John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Bryce Harper's first ejection as a Philadelphia Phillie worked out nicely for the Mets, allowing them to deal with someone named Roman Quinn for two potentially important at-bats instead in a 5-1 win.
But in the long run it might have been a night the Phillies will remember as a tone-setter for the season and, to some degree, the Harper era, after Jake Arrieta called out the $330 million man for getting tossed, and basically said it's time he grows up.
"We need him in right field," Arrieta said. "I don't care how bad the umpire is. I need him at the plate and he wasn't there. So that hurts."
Harper has a history of flipping out on umpires, having been ejected 12 times in his eight seasons in the big leagues, the second-highest total among active players behind only Matt Kemp, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
He also has a history of not running hard to first base on routine ground balls, and though such lack of hustle didn't get the same type of scrutiny as Manny Machado, it did not go unnoticed over the years.
Last season Keith Hernandez emphatically criticized him during a Mets-Nationals game for barely jogging to first on a hard-hit double-play ball, making the point of what a bad look it was for the best player on the team to give such a lack of effort.
Over the years some people close to the Nationals thought Harper needed to hear something like that from a veteran teammate -- or a manager -- but the only one who ever took him on publicly was Jonathan Papelbon, and he didn't have the cache to do so.
Although, if nothing else, Papelbon's attempted choke-hold on the young superstar back in 2015 made for an infamous dugout visual.
In any case, an older -- though still only 26 -- and presumably wiser Harper has to know his every move will be under the microscope now that he has the huge contract for a new team in a city whose fans take a certain pride in being tough on players.
For that matter, the contract has put more of a target on his back everywhere he goes. On Monday night Mets' fans booed him more loudly than I can remember during his days with the Nationals, in addition to serenading him with the chant of "Over-rated."
He's also expected to be a leader on relatively young Phillies team that collapsed in September last season after getting its first taste of playoff contention since the Jimmy Rollins-Chase Utley glory days.
It was perhaps with all of that in mind that Arrieta either saw an opening to send a message -- or he was simply ticked off enough that he couldn't hold his tongue.
Either way it's going to be fascinating to see what comes of this.
On Monday night Harper said all the right things afterward, agreeing that he has to be smarter in such situations and not allow himself to get ejected after being called out on strikes.
He said his team deserved better, and made a point of saying the Phillie fans did too, as he has been very careful so far to play to the blue-collar image of his new city in everything he says.
How he felt privately about Arrieta calling him out, well, who knows?
In truth, Arrieta was blunt in his criticism of the entire team, saying the Phillies came out "flat" after a two-hour rain delay, and simply weren't ready to play.
All of this bears watching for a team with huge expectations, especially after questions about the clubhouse culture emerged from the Phillies' meltdown late last season. At some point this spring it came to light that the now-departed Carlos Santana smashed a clubhouse TV with a bat late in the season in response to seeing teammates playing Fortnite during an actual game.
So now, after getting off to an 11-6 start, the Phillies have lost four of their last five games, all on the road, and Harper has cooled a bit after a hot start himself.
Meanwhile, Arrieta has pitched well early, but it's fair to ask whether he should have addressed his concerns about Harper and his teammates privately, perhaps in a team meeting, rather than going public with them.
He did this at least a couple of times last season, but then he became a big part of the late-season problem, pitching to a 6.39 ERA in September, which makes you wonder how Monday's comments were received generally in the clubhouse.
Throw in the polarizing nature of manager Gabe Kapler's personality, and there is quite the potential for volatility with the Phillies team.
Maybe that all works to the Mets' benefit, or perhaps Arrieta's early-season message galvanizes his ballclub, which was surely his intention.
At least some of that depends on whether Harper takes the public scolding and understands that with $330 million comes more responsibility than he seemed to want to accept in the past.