Bryce Harper vs. Cole Hamels and MLB's 10 Most Heated Hitter-Pitcher Rivalries

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IMay 22, 2012

Bryce Harper vs. Cole Hamels and MLB's 10 Most Heated Hitter-Pitcher Rivalries

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    On May 6, Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels delivered what he called a purpose pitch right into the back of Washington Nationals prized prospect Bryce Harper, and then foolishly admitted after the game that the pitch was indeed intentional.

    "I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it," Hamels told reporters after the game.

    Hamels' "honesty" earned him a five-game suspension and much criticism from players, managers and analysts alike.

    On Wednesday night, the Phillies face the Nats with Hamels on the mound. With the game nationally televised on ESPN, it promises to be a spirited affair.

    While everyone will be watching the Hamels-Harper duel, it might be interesting to see Hamels batting against Nationals starter Edwin Jackson as well. After Hamels' foolish admission of guilt, Jackson may deliver a little payback of his own.

    The expected matchup between Hamels and Harper isn't the only heated matchup worth watching, however. There have been several incidents within the last year or so that warrant close observation as well.

    Here are 10 heated pitcher-hitter rivalries worth watching in the future.

David Wright vs. Any Milwaukee Brewers Starting Pitcher

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    New York Mets third baseman David Wright has been on fire all year at the plate, now hitting a robust .415 entering play on Tuesday. However, on May 8, Wright was heated up for an entirely different reason.

    In the top of the seventh inning of the game between the Mets and Milwaukee Brewers, relief pitcher D.J. Carrasco drilled Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun with a pitch, earning an ejection for his effort.

    Wright, who was scheduled to lead off in the bottom half of the inning, was replaced with a pinch-hitter by manager Terry Collins, who feared that Wright would be plunked in retaliation. Collins' removal of Wright was not received well by the slugger, who knew that he might be singled out for retaliation and was prepared for it.

    But Collins never gave him that chance, and now, when the two teams meet again in mid-September, all eyes will be on the Brewers' starter in that first matchup with Wright since the incident.

Justin Verlander vs. Erick Aybar

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    Last July 31, in a matchup featuring two of the American League's best pitchers, an unwritten rule was broken, and payback could be delivered.

    Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander was not only out-dueling Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels, he had no-hit the Angels through seven innings.

    In the top of the eighth, Angels shortstop Erick Aybar drew the ire of Verlander when he attempted to break up the no-hit bid with a bunt attempt. Verlander fielded the ball but threw wildly to first for an error.

    It was clear Verlander was none too pleased by Aybar breaking the unspoken rule of never attempting to bunt in the late innings against a pitcher who's hurling a no-no. Even after the inning ended with Verlander's no-hit attempt broken up by Maicer Izturis, he could be seen gesturing from the dugout, pointing at Aybar and motioning that he would plunk Aybar.

    The Angels head to Detroit for a four-game series starting July 16—you just might want to stay tuned.

Jered Weaver vs. Alex Avila

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    In the same game that saw Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander peeved at Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, Halos starter Jered Weaver got a little worked up himself.

    In the bottom of the seventh inning, Weaver served up a nice fat pitch for Tigers second baseman Carlos Guillen, who promptly launched it for a solo home run, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

    The problem was, Guillen stopped and admired his handiwork before beginning his trot around the bases, drawing the ire of Weaver. The next batter, Alex Avila, felt Weaver's ire when he directed his first pitch behind Avila's back, earning Weaver an immediate ejection.

    While the Verlander-Aybar matchup serves up promise in mid-July, the Weaver-Avila matchup could be must-see TV as well.

Nyjer Morgan vs. Chris Volstad

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    Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan has certainly earned a reputation for being a fierce competitor, and that fierceness was on display on Sept. 1, 2010.

    Morgan, then with the Washington Nationals, charged the mound after Florida Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad threw behind him, earning Morgan a suspension.

    Both players are now with new clubs, Morgan with the Milwaukee Brewers and Volstad with the Chicago Cubs. Is the incident still smoldering between the two?

Jason Heyward vs. Jeff Samardzija

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    On May 7, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija put forth a solid effort against the Atlanta Braves, allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings.

    However, the one run Samardzija gave up was on a solo homer by Braves right fielder Jason Heyward in the second inning. With one out in the sixth, Heyward was drilled in the back by Samardzija.

    Not sure if this will spill over or not, as the Braves did retaliate in the bottom half of the seventh when Eric O'Flaherty drilled Cubs right fielder David DeJesus, but one never knows.

Bryan LaHair vs. Phillip Humber

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    The crosstown rivalry between the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs has always been, well, spirited.

    This past weekend, the Cubbies and Sox renewed their rivalry in the first interleague matchup of the season, and hit batsmen and gamesmanship were once again on full display.

    White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was hit in the face by a pitch from Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. To Samardzija's credit, he said it was a splitter that simply got away from, and he did seem genuinely concerned when Konerko was sprawling on the ground.

    The White Sox, however, retaliated nonetheless. Two innings later, Phillip Humber sailed a pitch behind Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair's head.

    The two clubs face off once again in a three-game series starting June 18. Stay tuned.

Ian Kennedy vs. Clayton Kershaw

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    On May 14, two of last year's best pitchers in the National League—Clayton Kershaw for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ian Kennedy for the Arizona Diamondbacks—faced off against each other, and the duel turned out to be not so friendly.

    In the first of 18 matchups between the division rivals, Kennedy and Kershaw exchanged brush-back pitches just two innings apart in the Dodgers' 3-1, clearly promising more sparring between the two in the future.

    Kershaw was still upset following the game.

    Old-school baseball's one thing, and I understand what the manager's trying to instill over there, but there's no place for that here. It's obvious what they were trying to do, but I don't agree with what they did. It just felt wrong. He (Kennedy) is a good pitcher, he had an awesome year last year and I have a lot of respect for what he does on the hill. But if that's how they want to do it, that's fine. He missed anyway, so no big deal.

    Somehow, I think it's a bigger deal than Kershaw is admitting to. We shall see.

Gerardo Parra vs. Clayton Kershaw

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    When Clayton Kershaw started on May 14 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, outfielder Gerardo Parra was not in the lineup for the D-Backs. That may have prevented even more fireworks from happening.

    Last Sept. 14, Kershaw was ejected in the sixth inning of a game against the D-Backs after hitting Parra with a pitch. Parra had doubled off Kershaw in the third, but Kershaw was still upset by Parra's "styling" on a home run he had hit the previous night against the Dodgers.

    The Dodgers and D-Backs play each other quite a few more times this season, so the flames for this heated rivalry could be stoked once again.

Hanley Ramirez vs. Wilton Lopez

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    On May 9, the Miami Marlins squared off against the Houston Astros, and third baseman Hanley Ramirez nearly squared off against Astros reliever Wilton Lopez.

    Lopez hit Ramirez with an offering in the seventh inning, drawing a long glare from Han-Ram in the process and prompting an umpire to escort Ramirez to first base.

    Astros manager Brad Mills claimed after the game that there was absolutely no intent, but apparently Lopez and other teammates were upset at Ramirez for gestures he had made towards the team in a matchup earlier in the season.

    After the game, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, always one with a way for words, offered his take on the incident.

    "Very mature," Guillen said. "He's lucky I wasn't Hanley. I would have chased his [rear] all the way to Puerto Rico."

    Um, Ozzie? Lopez is from Nicaragua. At least Ozzie didn't say anything about Cuba this time.

Bryce Harper vs. Cole Hamels

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    I'm still not quite sure what message Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels was trying to deliver when he drilled Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the back in the first inning on May 6, but actually admitting to it after the game certainly drew a wide range of responses.

    The biggest response may come on Wednesday night, when Hamels is scheduled to pitch against the Nationals in a nationally televised contest. While all eyes will be on the first at-bat for Harper against Hamels, there is no doubt fans will be watching with rapt interest when Hamels strides to the plate as well.

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.