NEW YORK — Gabe Kapler had barely stomped onto the field and pointed a finger in home-plate umpire Mark Carlson’s face when Bryce Harper charged up behind him, eyes bulging out of his skull and yelling obscenities like a man possessed.
These are frustrating times for the Phillies, and their superstar was the picture of frustration.
It was the fourth inning Monday night here at Citi Field. The Phillies were trailing by one run in a game that was delayed 95 minutes at the start by steady rain that was still falling, and at least in Harper's view, they weren't getting any help from Carlson's strike zone.
The breaking point was a fastball to Cesar Hernandez that looked to be high but was framed well by Mets catcher Wilson Ramos and called a strike by Carlson. Having heard what he deemed as “some comments in the dugout that were inappropriate,” Carlson turned and ejected Harper, igniting a furious tirade by both Kapler and Harper that preceded the Phillies’ 5-1 loss in the opener of a three-game series, their fourth defeat in five games.
“It just can’t happen from my side,” Harper said of his 12th career ejection. “In a game like that against the Mets, division rival, it just can’t happen, for me, myself and this team as well. We’re a better team with me in the lineup, and I’ve got to stay in there.”
Jake Arrieta felt the same way. Arrieta pitched well enough to halt the Phillies' skid. He gave up two runs in the third inning on the first two hits of the season against him with runners in scoring position and a solo homer to Jeff McNeil in the fifth inning. The Mets tacked on two unearned runs in the seventh after Hernandez's errant feed to shortstop Phil Gosselin on a potential double-play ball.
After the game, Arrieta had pointed words for both Harper and the Phillies' overall effort. He challenged Harper to better control himself and criticized his teammates for coming out "flat" after the long rain delay.
"Look, I mean, [Harper's] got to understand we need him in right field," Arrieta said. "I don't care how bad the umpire is. He wasn't great for either side. I'm out there trying to make pitches, and he misses some calls. So what? We need him out there. I need him in right field, I need him at the plate, and he wasn’t there. So that hurts.
"We were flat from start to finish. Two-hour delay, it doesn't matter. We have to be ready to play. We weren't, and it showed. The dugout was flat. The defense wasn’t good. Didn’t throw the ball well as a staff overall. We got beat. We started at 8:45. I don’t think our guys were ready to play. We’ve got to come out tomorrow ready to play."
Six days after throttling Mets starter Steven Matz in a 10-run first inning at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies were largely muted by the lefty. They wasted a two-on, none-out opportunity in the third inning and left two more runners on base in the fourth after Rhys Hoskins' solo home run cut the deficit to 2-1.
And after Harper’s ejection, they mustered only one hit. Mets pitchers retired the final 16 batters in the game, rock bottom in a rough five-game stretch in which the Phillies have scored only 15 runs, gone 7-for-39 (.179) with runners in scoring position, and played without their injured centerfielder, shortstop, backup shortstop, and best late-inning reliever.
So, yeah, you could understand why Harper's patience is being tested.
Kapler insisted the Phillies voiced their objections to Carlson through "normal chirping from the dugout that is in every dugout every single night." Hoskins added that he heard "nothing out of the ordinary" in the dugout. But Carlson said Harper crossed the line, using "personal" and offensive language.
“What he said warranted an automatic ejection,” Carlson told a pool reporter.
After Harper charged out of the dugout, Kapler shoved him at least twice to keep him from making physical contact with Carlson, who nevertheless said he believed Harper pushed Kapler into him. Harper was also restrained by bench coach Rob Thomson and third-base coach Dusty Wathan.
"I'm usually zero-to-100 anyway," Harper said. "If you look at all my ejections, it's usually pretty calm and then, bam, once it happens, I try to let it out, I guess. But like I said, that can't happen. I've got to stay in that game and be there for my team, the fans and this organization. I've got to be better.
“I can’t control what [the umpire’s] zone’s going to be. I can control what I can do. I’ve just got to be better with that, tonight and going forward.”
Harper said Arrieta had not yet spoken with him directly. But the pitcher didn’t mince words over a game that could linger with the Phillies long after Mets closer Edwin Diaz recorded the final out.
“It’s troubling, yeah,” Arrieta said. “I’m out there doing everything I can to win a game. I need my guys behind me, and they weren’t.”