Every home run Bryce Harper hits from here on out this season will set a new career-high after he passed his previous best with his 23rd in his 277th plate appearance in the fourth inning on Saturday afternoon, topping his total in 597 PAs in 2012.
Harper's 2 for 3 game against Liriano in Max Scherzer's no-hitter left him 23 for 65 (.354/.500/.662) with eight doubles, four home runs, 18 walks and 13 Ks in 84 PAs against left-handers this season.
He was 2 for 4 overall in the game, leaving him with a .347/.477/.730 line on the year with 14 doubles and the 23 HRs in 279 PAs. His performance in the game, Scherzer told reporters, played a part in inspiring the starter to push himself on his way to the first no-hitter of his career.
Harper injured his left hamstring on Thursday night in the series finale with the Tampa Bay Rays, but returned to the lineup after one day off and provided the margin of victory in the Nationals' 6-0 win over the Pirates.
Scherzer said he was impressed with Harper's competitiveness.
"It just shows you how much of a competitor he is," Scherzer told reporters. "His leg is all bruised up. His hammy is tight and he's out there competing, battling through injuries.
Injuries, obviously, but he's hurt. But he can play through the pain and that just shows you how much of a competitor he is and I respect that a tremendous amount.
"It's hard to go out there and compete like that. I've been out there on the mound, drilled and hit by a ball, and I mean, that stuff hurts. And when I see somebody else going out there and competing like that and obviously hitting a home run, it just motivates you to keep competing as hard as you can, and I think it just kind of keeps going back and forth, the more he does it, the more I want to do it, the more I want to do it, the more he wants to do it... and I feel like the rest of the team picks up on it as well."
Nats' skipper Matt Williams said Harper came through his return to the lineup with no issues, though they all kept a close eye on the 22-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick throughout his pregame workout routine to be sure there were no signs that the hamstring remained an issue.
"He ran, he did all of his agility work. He hit, no issues," Williams said, "and so we trust our guys when they tell us that they're okay to go, then they're okay to go. No problem."
Harper was back in the lineup today as well, and the first time up he took Pirates' right-hander Charlie Morton deep to right for a two-run blast that landed in the second deck in right field, below where Jackie Robinson's retired no.42 hangs on the facade of the upper deck.
Harper's 24th was just the second Morton had surrendered in 33 ⅔ IP to that point, though he gave up another eight batters later as the Nationals knocked him out with a nine-run first.
Wiliams was asked about the toughness the fourth-year major leaguer showed in going out for the last two games and homering in each in spite of being banged up.
"He wants to be out there," Williams said. "He's had his fair share and probably more than his fair share of injuries over the last few years. Freaky stuff. So it's nice that he is able to maintain that health for the most part and be out there every day. It just shows you what he can do."
Harper talked to reporters about the home run being especially important since it started the scoring and came with his father in attendance on Father's Day.
"It was awesome," he said. "Being able to do that first at bat and him being able to come out and enjoy that, so very cool moment, very big opportunity right there to get us on the board and very happy we got that 'W' and got that sweep."
The Pirates entered the three-game set in the nation's capital winners of eight straight, but dropped all three to the Nationals, who reclaimed first place in the NL East in the process.
Harper ended the game 1 for 4 with a run scored and a .345/.473/.735 line on the year, good for 3rd in AVG in the NL, 2nd in OBP, 1st in SLG, 1st in OPS (1.208), 2nd in HRs, 2nd in walks (with 54) and 1st in runs scored.
If you don't like Bryce Harper, and appreciate what he's doing on the field, that's your problem.