The Washington Nationals shocked the baseball world on Sunday when the team's closer, Jonathan Papelbon, choked teammate Bryce Harper in the team dugout, leading to a fight between the two. Then MLB players as a whole did so once again afterward by anonymously ripping Harper, not Papelbon -- although publicly, some MLB players are simply shrugging this off as more common of an occurrence than outsiders realize.
The scuffle happened in the eighth inning of the Nationals' 12-5 loss against the Phillies at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Papelbon took issue with Harper after the 22-year-old MVP candidate's failure to run out a fly ball -- a "lack of hustle" play that's gotten Harper benched in the past.
Papelbon accosted Harper as he returned to the dugout, where the incident turned physical. The pair have been teammates for less than two months.
Shortstop Ian Desmond pulled Harper away from Papelbon and the game continued. Papelbon went on to pitch the ninth inning -- something that manager Matt Williams says he wouldn't have allowed had he known the extent of the fight -- and allow five runs in the loss.
Papelbon had recently served a three-game suspension for intentionally hitting Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, a decision Harper publicly criticized. Immediately after Sunday's game, Papelbon was heavily criticized for what many saw people saw as his latest display of needlessly aggressive behavior.
Nationals manager Matt Williams was "livid" after seeing footage of the fight, but some active and former MLB players aren't upset at Papelbon, according to Fox Sports' C.J. Nitkowski. In fact, a few are siding with him, justifying Papelbon's actions and decrying Harper for not running out that fly ball.
"I would have done the same thing if I were Papelbon," one player anonymously told Nitkowski.
"Pap did what should have been done three years ago. Veteran players should be doing this across the league," another added.
"As a teammate, you always feel you have the right to say something to someone if you feel it’s wrong or hurts the club. Right after the popup is not the best time to call out a hitter," one said.
While MLB players agree that Harper's lack of hustle warranted a strong response from his teammates, they acknowledge that handling the matter inside the clubhouse and at a different time would've been more appropriate.
One player, however, was unequivocal in his assessment of Harper.
"He quit on his team after the fight, just like he does on popups."
Following Nitkowski's initial report, former MLB pitcher LaTroy Hawkins publicly supported Papelbon.
Other MLB players have explained away Papelbon's behavior, with former Boston Red Sox teammate David Ortiz telling AP, "Everybody’s adrenaline and emotions are all over the place, and it happens."
San Fransisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy admitted that bust-ups like Papelbon and Harper's do occur, but usually it's behind closed doors, saying that it "happens a little more than you think — maybe not in the dugout.”
UPDATE: (1:47 p.m.) The Washington Nationals are siding with Harper here. Papelbon has been suspended for four games without pay by the club, they announced on Twitter on Monday afternoon:
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