The New York Mets trailed 2-1 after three and a half in this past Thursday's series finale with the Washington Nationals in Citi Field. Nats' starter Tanner Roark gave up singles by Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter that put runners on first and second with one out and Mets' catcher Anthony Recker sent a line drive down the line in left and into foul territory for the third straight hit, driving in Duda, who scored the game-tying run, 2-2.
Baxter tried to go first-to-third on the play, but a helpful bounce off the rolled up tarp sent the ball out into left field where Bryce Harper met it on his way to the corner. Harper scooped it up with his glove, made the transfer and fired a strike to third where Ryan Zimmerman slapped a tag on Baxter's left foot as he slid into the bag. Third base ump James Hoye punched Baxter out and the go-ahead run was taken off the basepaths. Tanner Roark got the next out and in the first at bat of the fifth, Wilson Ramos hit a solo home run to make it 3-2 Nationals in what ended up a 7-2 win.
It was Harper's 10th outfield assist of 2013. No one who's watched the 20-year-old outfielder develop defensively was surprised by Harper's arm strength. A helpful bounce helped him get Baxter, but without a strong, accurate throw, the Mets could have had the tying run on third with one down. Last night in the nation's capital, Harper was at it again.
With the Nationals ahead 3-1 after four, Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder Freddy Galvis lined an opposite field hit by third. There was no tarp down the line in left field in Nationals Park, so Harper had to run all the way to the corner, where he cut the ball off by sliding to meet it before popping up and firing a strong throw to second. Galvis beat the throw to second, but his momentum took him past the bag and when his hand came off Nats' second baseman Steve Lombardozzi was waiting to make the tag.
With Washington up 6-1 after five, Philly catcher Carlos Ruiz came a few feet short of a leadoff home run in the first at bat of the sixth, lining a 3-2 fastball to left field and off the wall some 377ft from home. Harper tracked it and played a friendly bounce off the wall before throwing to second where Steve Lombardozzi received the ball and slapped his glove down between the base and Ruiz's cleat as he slid in. Nailed. Outfield assist no.12 for Harper, which tied him for second in the NL with the Reds' Jay Bruce, behind only D-Backs' outfielder Gerardo Parra (16) for the lead in the National League.
"I think he's way up there in assists," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game. "Both of those, you would think they're sure doubles," the Nats' skipper said. "Back to the wall and made perfect throws. It's good to take his mind off hitting. Give him something else to do."
"He's getting better," Johnson said when asked about Harper's work in the outfield. "He's still a real young outfielder. But he's got a good arm. Accurate. He likes it."
He really likes it.
"When I was catching, I loved to throw," Harper told reporters after the Nats' seventh straight win. "I loved to backdoor guys. Throw guys out and show off my arm a little bit. Now it's a little bit more of picking my spots and not throwing to third when I don't have to or not throwing to the plate when I don't have to and trying to save as much of my arm as I can and throw some guys out when I can."
Harper, like his manager, wasn't sure that he could get Galvis or Ruiz, but strong, accurate throws gave him a chance. "I wasn't sure," he admitted. "The one I slid on down the line, I didn't know if I had an opportunity at all, but I just tried to throw it as hard as I can and let [Lombardozzi] do the rest. Ruiz, I wasn't sure if I had an opportunity on that one either. It deflected off the wall the best it could."
So which does he like better? Assists or home runs? "I like throwing guys out," Harper said, "I really do. I get fired up, because it doesn't happen often. Of course, homers don't happen often, but it's an adrenaline rush throwing guys out."
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