The story was supposed to be about missed opportunities, another blown lead in the bullpen and losing two of three to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Instead, with one swing, Bryce Harper changed the narrative, forced writers to frantically rewrite their game stories and lifted the Washington Nationals to a 6-4 win.
Harper’s walk-off winner in the nation’s capital let the Nationals off the hook after they blew a 3-1 lead by giving up two in the eighth and one in the ninth, quickly turning a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit.
“We made mistakes and it cost us and then Bryce erased them,” Dusty Baker told reporters after Harper hit a two-out, three-run home run 422 ft to center off of Phillies’ closer Joaquin Benoit to beat the Nationals’ NL East rivals.
It was Harper’s second home run and third hit of the game in the series finale with the Phillies. He hit a two-run home run in the third to break up a 1-1 tie, and beat the shift with a two-out single to left in the seventh, then hit the fourth walk-off homer of his career on a 97 mph 3-2 fastball from Benoit that ended up batter’s eye grass beyond the center field wall in Nationals Park.
“He’s getting better,” Baker said, when asked how impressed he’s been with what he’s seen from Harper over the last season-plus on the Nationals’ bench.
“He’s getting better at it. Every at bat he’s not trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark.
“You see him taking some singles up the middle, some hits to left field. That’s what hitters do. He’s not just a slugger. Sometimes when you’re young you get confused between being a slugger and a hitter, but you can be both if you remain a hitter first.
“And so, just keep it coming.”
BAH GAWD HE'S BROKEN IN HALF! pic.twitter.com/WSjfwYJoHO— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 16, 2017
The key to the game-winning blast? Baker provided several keys from a number of Nationals that led to Harper’s latest big moment, but it all came down to Harper’s walk-off bomb.
“Well, the key was it looked like [when] they went to the mound, it looked like they were going to challenge him.
“I thought they were going to throw a splitter or changeup in there someplace, but the key is just sheer determination.
“You’ve got to be determined and he was determined not to make the last out.”
“I took two good swings right there, 0-0, and 0-1,” Harper said when he met with reporters after the win. He fouled both off.
“So, you never want to get behind on a guy like that, but I battled the best I could, and got 3-2, got into a pretty good count right there and got a good pitch to hit.”
“It was a heater. Just left it out, over and got to it,” Harper added.
“Benoit is tough, he’s got that devastating changeup he throws and I thought he was going to throw it right there, 3-2, but he left the ball up.”
Benoit left it up, and Harper crushed it, saving the team from a long, disappointing flight to Atlanta, where they start the next series on Tuesday night.