Tyler Moore's one-out home run in the fifth cut Miami's lead in half, making it 2-1, and it was all downhill from there for Marlins' lefty Brad Hand, who gave up a single and back-to-back walks in the next three at bats, loading the bases in front of Bryce Harper.
Harper entered the game on a tear, with 21 hits, four of them doubles and eight home runs in 50 September at bats, 16 walks and 13 Ks in 16 games this month, over which he had a .420/.552/.980 line.
Harper grounded into a double play in the first, sent a fly to right in the third, then stepped in against Hand with the bases loaded in the fifth and battled the left-hander in an epic ten-pitch at bat, in which he fouled off five two-strike pitches before finally hitting a 2-2 slider to center field for a sac fly that brought Jordan Zimmermann in from third for the game-tying run.
Hand ended up throwing 41 pitches total in the fifth, walking in the go-ahead run before he was lifted.
In Harper's next at bat, in the seventh, he hit a 2-2 slider from right-hander Kyle Barraclough into the second deck in right for a two-run blast that gave Washington a three-run lead.
It was Harper's 41st home run of the season. His manager, Matt Williams, was just as impressed with the ten-pitch at bat as he was with the homer.
"That's the evolution. That's the evolution of his game," Williams said. "So, grind at bats, bases loaded, the lefty on lefty matchup, staying on balls, doing what he can to put that ball in play.
"Those are the steps that he's made this year and will continue to make that will allow him to do the things that he wants to do on the field. Pretty good at bat."
"I was trying to put the bat on the ball," Harper told reporters.
"Trying to definitely make something happen.
"Didn't care what he was going to throw up there, I was just trying to battle and do the best I could to get something in the air or get something through a hole, and was able to enough to get Jordan in on that sac fly."
"That's an important moment," Williams said. "It's one thing to try to hit a homer there, it's another thing to grind an at bat and simply get one. That will allow him to have success throughout his career if he can have at bats like that."
Zimmermann, who scored the game-tying run and earned the win on Saturday, improving to (12-4) on the year, talked after game about the changes he's seen in Harper's approach this season.
"The biggest thing that I see is he's not chasing any pitches," Zimmermann said.
"Last year and the year before that he was chasing stuff out of the zone and now he's a lot more patient and knows that they're not going to give him strikes and he's going to have to take his walks when he can."
And when they do give him pitches to hit, or make mistakes, like Barraclough did, Harper's made them pay.
Asked about Harper's numbers down the stretch, Williams said they were another sign of the 22-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick's continued growth.
"It tells me that he's prepared," Williams said. "It tells me that he's thinking along with his at bats, and understanding what that situation is, whether it's a ten-pitch at bat against a lefty or understanding that he may get a breaking ball there and staying through it. Again, not big and strong, but short and quick and he can do those types of things."
Good as Harper has been, is he the NL's Most Valuable Player this season?
"I think so," Zimmermann said. "His numbers say he is and we'll see at the end of the season, but I'm pulling for him."
Harper didn't want to hear talk of awards.
"We've got  games left, so I'm not really worried about the MVP or anything like that, I've said that numerous times, just trying to win ballgames and just trying to do everything I can to help this team win."
What will he do to help the Nationals win the series finale with the Marlins?
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