Bryce Harper started the three-game set with the NL East-leading New York Mets 0 for 8 at the plate with two walks and four Ks in back-to-back losses in the first two of three in Washington, D.C., but the Nationals' 22-year-old MVP candidate came up big in the series finale.
Harper was hitless (0 for 4, BB) against lefty Jon Niese and a series of Mets' relievers in the first game. He went 0 for 3 vs Matt Harvey, (leaving him 0 for 20 with 7 Ks career vs Harvey) and 0 for 2 with a walk vs the 'pen in the second, then went 3 for 4 with two home runs (35, 36), a double and three runs scored against Jacob deGrom and Tyler Clippard in the third of three in what ended up a 5-3 loss in spite of his efforts.
He took a 97 mph 1-2 fastball up high, inside from deGrom to right field for a two-out home run in the bottom of the first, doubled off the righty the second time up in the fourth and scored on an RBI single by Clint Robinson, then after grounding out to first in the sixth, took a 92 mph 3-1 fastball knee-high inside from Tyler Clippard to right for his second home run of the game in the home-half of the eighth.
"The ball Harper hit in the first inning," Mets' skipper Terry Collins said, "that was a pretty good pitch. That's what the great hitters do, they can take a good pitch and do damage with it."
Both of Harper's homers were solo shots after Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa failed to get on base in front of the slugger, and on the year, 23 of his 36 home runs this season have come with the bases empty.
Bryce Harper hit this 97.3 MPH fastball from Jacob deGrom for HR. It's fastest pitch Harper has ever homered against pic.twitter.com/2RaJeheQa1— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 9, 2015
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked after the game how big a problem it's been that so much, of Harper's home run production at least, has come with the bases empty?
Bryce Harper: 9th career multi-HR game. Only 3 players since 1920 have more before their 23rd birthday: Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Bob Horner— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 10, 2015
"You can cry over spilled milk," Williams said, "but having guys injured and out of the lineup, the guys that generally hit in front of him, puts him at a disadvantage in that regard.
"To his credit he has stayed the course and done really well, regardless of the situation."
Harper currently leads the National League in AVG (.336), OBP (.467), SLG (.657), OPS+ (B-R: 201), wOBA (.467), wRC+ (201) and runs scored (104), is tied for second in HRs (36) and is in second with 109 walks.
Harper's 85 RBIs are good for 8th in the NL.
The three-game sweep at the hands of the Mets left the Nationals 7.0 games back with 23 to play, but Harper told reporters, including MASN's Chris Johnson, that he and his teammates will keep coming to the park and fighting.
"We just got to keep rolling," Harper said. "Keep trying to play games. Keep having fun and enjoy the season. Really just come in every single day with a plan to win ballgames. Just gotta grind it out to the end, and when it's over, it's over."
His approach this season has not been lost on his teammates, including Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, who told reporters they've seen impressive growth.
Werth told Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell that Harper's matured, become "one of the guys" in the clubhouse and this year, "... shown the guys in here the intangibles that you think of in an MVP-caliber player."
"Kid's showtime," Desmond said last night. "He rises to the occasion. It's fun to kind of watch his maturity over the last few years. He's turned into quite the beast."
Bryce Harper's case for MVP, in one handy graphic distributed by the Nationals just to make sure we're not all crazy. pic.twitter.com/iqnqTwPUk3— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 10, 2015
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