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Nationals Suspend Jonathan Papelbon for Rest of Season for Choking Bryce Harper in Dugout

The Washington Nationals’ season took yet another dismal turn Sunday, when recently acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon and MVP-candidate Bryce Harper tussled in the dugout during the eighth inning. On Monday the Nats announced they had suspended Papelbon for the rest of the season.

Harper had just popped out to third, and it appears that Papelbon didn’t like that Harper didn’t run full speed to first base. The two players jawed at each other as Harper returned to the dugout. Who said what exactly isn’t clear from video, but things escalated quickly and moments later Papelbon lunged at Harper, grabbing him by the throat and shoving him into the dugout wall.

Teammates quickly separated the two. Incredibly, Nats manager Matt Williams sent Papelbon back out to pitch the ninth inning, which Papelbon royally screwed up by allowing five runs and losing the game. Williams later claimed he hadn’t heard about the dugout fight, somehow. He will likely be fired from his position after the season, if not sooner, just a year after winning National League Manager of the Year — again, somehow.

It’s unclear whether Papelbon will be back with the team in 2016, though he is signed for $11 million, which means he might be hard to trade. Washington almost certainly wouldn’t trade Harper, who leads not just his own team but the entire National League in home runs, runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other valuable offensive category (except RBI, if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s not Harper’s fault his teammates aren’t getting on base in front him). By WAR (a statistic that measures a player’s overall output, covering offense, defense and baserunning, Harper leads all of Major League Baseball.

Maybe Harper should have run harder down to first base, maybe he should have done a better job of leading by example, maybe he could have done a little something more to drag his team out of its second-half swoon (though what exactly that is, who knows) — maybe these things are true and are demerits for Harper. But still, that doesn’t open the door for Papelbon to physically attack him in the dugout. Teammates get into fights sometimes, but in this case, you have a hotheaded relief-pitching rental player assaulting his team’s best player — in the middle of a game. Papelbon’s suspension is unsurprising, and it’d be a surprise to see him in the same uniform in 2016, or whenever he shows up next.

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