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Bob Lutz: Mr. Papelbon will be leaving Washington

Washington reliever Jonathan Papelbon (right) confronts young slugger Bryce Harper after a pop-out during Sunday’s game against Philadelphia.
Washington reliever Jonathan Papelbon (right) confronts young slugger Bryce Harper after a pop-out during Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. MLB.com

Jonathan Papelbon is an almost-35-year-old reliever who has been just OK since going to the Washington Nationals from Philadelphia just before the trade deadline this season.

Bryce Harper is a 22-year-old superstar, the likely MVP in the National League.

What I’m getting at is this: Jon, regardless of the message you’re trying to convey, it’s a really dumb idea to attack Bryce in the Nationals’ dugout in front of your teammates and cameras.

You can argue that Papelbon was standing up for a baseball principle. After Harper popped out in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday during a 12-5 loss to Philadelphia, Papelbon chided him as Harper returned to the dugout for not running hard to first base.

OK, not running hard to first base is a no-no. We teach young kids to hustle, regardless. It’s a character thing, a right-way-to-do-things thing. How hard is it to hustle?

Harper didn’t.

He was playing his 148th game of the season. The Nationals have been a major disappointment. Despite his amazing statistics (.336, 41 homers, 96 RBI) Harper is undoubtedly ready for this season to be over.

The Nats were locked out of the National League East race over the weekend by the New York Mets, who have clinched. Washington was the favorite of many to not only win the NL East, but to win a world championship thanks to a loaded starting pitching rotation.

Seasons, though, have a way of going in an unexpected direction. It’s been the Mets who have loaded up their rotation while the Nats have been inconsistent and manager Matt Williams has lost his way.

So, while Papelbon was in the right as far as baseball’s letter of the law goes, he was amazingly lacking in common sense when he confronted Harper. The verbal sparring became physical when Papelbon attacked Harper, put his hands around the young slugger’s throat and pushed him into the dugout wall before teammates could break up the skirmish.

MLB announced Monday that Papelbon would be suspended for four games, in addition to the three-game suspension he’s serving for hitting a batter last week. His season is finished.

Harper, meanwhile, will sit out one game, according to Williams, because, well, I guess he needs to sit out one game.

It’s impossible to know how this played out amongst the rest of the Nationals. I’m guessing they are siding with the superstar player who seems to be just figuring out how good he is and how far his talent can take him.

Harper is not a lollygagger. If anything, the Nationals could like it if he toned things down a little. He’s been injured in the past because of his aggressive style of play.

When he started catching it from Papelbon on Sunday, he must have been thinking: “Who is this guy?”

Papelbon has had an excellent career, no doubt, with 349 career saves and a 2.35 ERA. He’s a six-time All-Star and helped the Boston Red Sox win a world championship. He should know something about being a young phenom, too; when he was 25, in 2006, he had 35 saves and a 0.92 ERA for Boston.

Papelbon has had an ERA above 2.94 only once in 11 big-league seasons.

But after just 22 appearances with Washington, I doubt he’s viewed by anyone there as a team leader or someone on a level to call out the player the future of the Nationals depends upon.

It’s likely Williams will be fired soon after the end of the season. And even though Papelbon is under contract through the 2016 season, I’ll drop my jaw if he’s in spring training with Washington next season.

If you watch MLB at all, you know players don’t always hustle. They just don’t. They usually do, but not always. There are times when the grind of a season are more obvious than others. And the grind of the Nationals’ season has been grindier than most.

Harper was disappointed after his pop fly Sunday and he didn’t run. He knew it would be caught, as 99.999999999999999 percent of pop flies are.

As he approached the dugout, he was shocked when Papelbon started to chide him. It took a moment for him to react and it’s hard to know what he said, although whatever it was fired up Papelbon.

I know what I would have said, so I’m guessing Harper said something fairly close.

Papelbon lost it. He attacked his team’s franchise player, the likely MVP, a potential icon in the game’s history.

Even if he was going to win the fight, he most assuredly was going to lose the war.

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