WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after hitting a double in the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on May 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Ian Desmond was so excited about his walk-off home run and so eager to celebrate with his teammates that he had trouble stringing words together as he talked to MASN's Kristina Akra on the field after last night's game.
Desmond did, however, manage to get his point across, saying the game-winning hit was just what the Nationals needed to end a five-game losing streak. The 26-year-old shortstop wasn't taking the credit though, instead pointing to the efforts of 19-year-old Nats' outfielder Bryce Harper. "We got a great spark from Harp there," Desmond said, "Obviously something we needed, just a big at bat. The kid is good." When he was a little more composed at his locker after the game, the fourth year pro once again pointed out that it was Harper who'd given the Nats a chance to win the game.
"He played a heck of a ballgame," Desmond said, "And I would hate for his second good ballgame like that to go unnoticed, or obviously not unnoticed, but he played a great game and I'm glad he kind of got the win too." Davey Johnson was willing to talk about how big his shortstop had come through, telling reporters, "Desi's been swinging the bat awfully good here lately, he went through a little dry spell, but he's a run producer. And I had a good feeling with him... and what about the kid?" Johnson quickly transitioned to what he really wanted to discuss. "Bryce?" Johnson said as if anyone wondered which kid he meant, "I mean, he hit some pretty good pitchers, and he didn't get all of them. I think he got jammed a little bit, but it was just fun. It's the joy you get when you see guys do the things you know they're capable of doing."
"Here's a 19-year-old kid that is getting the bat out," Johnson continued, "That's infectious. That's why it hurts you a little bit missing your three and four-hole hitters because when they start doing it, it kind of flows. But seeing a 19-year-old hitting seventh come along and have nothing but quality at bats... That was impressive." In Harper's first at bat with two out in the second, he spit on a first pitch curve then reached first safely on a swinging bunt in spite of D-Backs' left-hander Joe Saunder's tumbling, glove-tossing effort to make the play. Harper got picked off first and tagged out at second for the final out of the inning with Wilson Ramos at the plate in the next at bat though, leaving him 0 for 1 in stolen base attempts as a major leaguer.
Harper's second at bat came in the fourth after Danny Espinosa had walked with two down. Joe Saunders started Harper with a two-seamer inside which the young slugger fouled down the first base line. After three attempts to pick Espinosa off for the third out of the inning, the D-Backs' lefty came up and in with another fastball Harper fouled off to put the Nationals' rookie outfield bat down 0-2. Espinosa stole second on a low heater Harper took for a ball and the youngest Nat took a slider in the dirt too evening the count and then working it full by taking a 2-2 curve. When Saunders once again tried to go inside with a fastball, Harper turned on it and powered a double out to right, off the out-of-town scoreboard and just short of a two-run HR.
On an error at second on a Wilson Ramos grounder in the next at bat, Harper hustled around third and sprinted home, colliding with D-Backs' catcher Miguel Montero and knocking the ball loose with his raised forearms before scrambling back to the plate to make sure he'd officially scored what was then the go-ahead run.
In the seventh, Saunders brought back the first-pitch curve he'd thrown Harper in his first at bat, and the Nats' seven-hole hitter waited and went down to get it, flying out to center to leave him 2 for 3 on the night. When he came to the plate for the fourth time in the ninth, 35-year-old veteran reliever J.J. Putz was on the mound, trying to save his sixth game in seven opportunities this season. Harper took a first pitch fastball inside, then launched a 93 mph heater from Putz to right-center, bouncing his second double of the game off the scoreboard to put the leadoff runner on in the home half of the ninth. Two swinging K's later it looked like Putz would get the save, but Ian Desmond shocked the nation's capital with his walk-off HR, bringing Harper around the easy way with a two-run blast to left-center after which Harper and the other Nats in the dugout greeted him at home.
Harper ended the night 3 for 4, with five hits, three of them doubles, in his first 13 MLB at bats (.385/.400/.615). Asked about the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick's approach at the plate at several important points in tonight's game, the Nats' 69-year-old skipper said once again that Harper's right where he belongs. "He was born for those situations I think," Johnson said, "If you asked him I wouldn't doubt he'd say, 'I'm probably more relaxed now than I was in Syracuse.' He likes being, game on the line, him being up. You can tell by the way he's aggressive. He makes them throw it over and he's trying to do some damage every time he swings it. It's fun watching."
Asked if Harper's success at the plate might result in a move up from the seventh spot in the order, Johnson told reporters that he had just asked his coaches the same question. "I said, 'Is it too early?'" Johnson joked. And the answer? "Nope."