Jonathan Papelbon apologizes for dugout incident with Bryce Harper

ByEddie Matz ESPN logo
Saturday, February 20, 2016

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon apologized Friday for last season's dugout incident in which he choked star outfielder Bryce Harper.

"Me and Bryce, we're good," Papelbon said. "I've apologized to him. I've apologized to my teammates. I want to apologize to the fans and the coaches and everyone included, and I think that with what happened last year, I was in the wrong. It should have never went down that way, and I understand that. I've had three months to think about it. I've done a lot of reflecting, and I think sometimes in life, good things can come out of bad situations."

The tussle occurred Sept. 27 during the bottom of the eighth inning of a home game against the Phillies, Papelbon's former team.

After getting out of the batter's box slowly on a pop fly to left field, Harper returned to the dugout and was approached by Papelbon, the veteran closer who had been acquired exactly two months earlier from Philadelphia and had entered the game in the top of eighth. The two had a brief but heated exchange that resulted in Papelbon putting his hands on Harper's throat and shoving him into the back wall of Washington's dugout. Several Nationals players and coaches responded immediately and separated the two.

Papelbon was allowed to go back out and pitch to start the ninth inning, but two days later he received a seven-game suspension -- composed of a three-game league suspension and a four-game team suspension -- that effectively ended his season a week early.

Although Papelbon filed a grievance in early December against the Nationals for failing to pay his salary during the team suspension, Friday's spring training news conference marked the first time since September that the 35-year-old reliever has addressed the media.

"We're all a band of brothers," Papelbon said, "and I think nobody was happy the way the season ended last year. Nobody was happy about what transpired in the dugout that day. But we all understand each other. I love playing on the same field as Bryce. I think in my situation, it just spilled over to frustration and a bunch of different things. But like I said, I didn't feel like I got to say and apologize the way I wanted to apologize to the fans and everyone the way I wanted to last year. Because I think the fans will see that I come here for one reason. I came here to bring a championship to a city that's never had a championship. None of that's changed because of what happened with me and Bryce last year."

Papelbon was a member of the 2007 Red Sox team that won the World Series in four games. He pitched in the final three games of the series, earning saves in all three contests. Following the 2011 season, after seven years in Boston, Papelbon signed as a free agent with Philadelphia, where he stayed until being dealt to Washington on July 28 last year.

Before the trade, in 37 appearances with the Phillies, he was 17 for 17 in save opportunities with a 1.59 ERA. In 22 games with the Nationals, he saved seven games in nine chances and posted a 3.04 ERA for a bullpen that struggled down the stretch.

Although there was talk of Papelbon's being shopped this offseason, and despite the Nationals trading longtime reliever Drew Storen as part of a thorough bullpen makeover, a deal never materialized.

"I think that the fan base has to trust that we're doing what's best for the baseball team, both in the clubhouse chemistry-wise and for performance on the field," GM Mike Rizzo said. "We hold our athletes to a high standard, and we realize that at the end of last year we didn't fulfill those standards. But we feel that this is a team that we give second chances to, and we feel that we're very comfortable with the fact that Pap's on the club and he's embraced by his teammates."

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