The first salvos were thrown in the Philadelphia Phillies vs.Washington Nationals rivalry Wednesday. Washington ace Stephen Strasburg hit Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley in the ankle with a pitch in the third inning. The Phillies Roy Halladay retaliated by sending a pitch behind the back of Nationals outfielder Tyler Moore who was not hit.
Strasburg’s pitch was clearly a fastball that got away. He struck out Utley in the first inning. Halladay clearly threw in the vicinity of Moore. He may not have tried to hit him, but was definitely sending a message.
It’s the first week in March and Philadelphia is already acknowledging that Washington has become a true rival. They never would have done this in years past. After losing the NL East by 17 games to a Nationals team that they had owned for eight years the Phillies have no choice. The new kids on the block have taken their crown and Philadelphia wants it back.
Spring training games really mean nothing. Both Strasburg and Halladay are working on getting in shape for the regular season. Each is experimenting with their deliveries and control. Every now and then a pitch is going to get away from them as they did Wednesday. Unless Strasburg and Halladay had cut loose fastballs up and in, neither can be accused of wanting to hurt their opponent. The rough stuff starts in April.
When it does, you can bet that the Phillies and Nationals will go full bore. Philadelphia is used to being on top in the NL East and feels that they deserve respect. The Phillies are tired of hearing how good Washington thinks that they are. For Philadelphia, one division title and no playoff series wins means nothing to them as from 2007 to 2011 they won five NL East championships, two NL pennants and a World Series. The Nationals still have to prove themselves to the Phillies.
Washington and Philadelphia split their season series last year. At one point the Phillies won seven out of eight from the Nationals. Philadelphia beat Washington the night that the Nationals clinched the NL East. The Phillies led the season series 9-7 until Washington won a couple of meaningless games at the end. This means that though the Nationals hold the crown, Philadelphia still sees themselves as the better team.
Washington found out Wednesday that the Phillies will do whatever it takes to get that point across even in spring training. Championship teams do not give up their place easily and the Nationals will have to beat Philadelphia on a regular basis to earn their respect.
It may have been a meaningless spring training game, but Halladay was sending a subtle message when he threw behind Moore.
The message was simply if the Nationals want a fight then they had better pack a lunch.