WASHINGTON, D.C.: 13-14-15-16-17 ... and with just two seconds left, homer No. 18 of Bryce Harper’s final round flurry sailed out to right field in Nationals Park as Washington’s 25-year-old slugger rallied, tying Chicago Cubs’ bruiser Kyle Schwarber in the 2018 MLB HR Derby.
With bonus time remaining it was only a matter of barreling up one more and claiming his trophy, and Harper did it. In the end, he hit nine home runs in 47 seconds to claim his first Home Run Derby. His two-handed bat toss after he won and the reaction of the crowd in Nationals Park were a release for a player who hasn’t hit like he wants to this season, and a city that’s seen its team struggle through the first half of the 2018 campaign.
Harper’s father, Ron, who threw three rounds of pitches to his son, was asked after it was over when they knew that Bryce was going to win it.
“When he had 18 and we still had extra time,” the elder Harper joked.
“No, seriously, I just felt like if we got on a little bit of a roll -- which I struggled there a little bit, I just knew if we got on a little bit of a roll, we could win it because I knew he could hit 20, 25 if he had extra time and could get going. And we’d seen he’d won with 12 or 13. They were lower numbers, so he didn’t get to see what he could do in a full round. I figured he could get 20, maybe a little bit more. But it was a lot of fun. I had a blast and I’m glad he barreled up about eight in a row there. He saved me.”
Harper’s father fired off a few unhittable pitches towards the end and it looked like he tired at just the wrong time, but then he and his son locked in and as they had on baseball fields in Las Vegas for years, doing what they did last night without a crowd cheering them on.
“We’ve talked about it in the offseason,” Bryce said, “where we went to the high school field in Vegas, and we’ve sat there and I’ve hit 14 in a row onto the street or something like that. And it’s like, okay, if we get in the Derby, we’re going to win this thing.
“I know we’ve talked about that for a long time, and we were able to do that tonight and get 18 with 30 seconds left. Wow, that was pretty awesome.”
“It’s unbelievable,” the Nationals’ outfielder added.
“I think just having the crowd out there and really feeding off them. We have some of the best fans in all of baseball, and to be able to that with my family out there, that’s an incredible moment, not only for me but for the organization and the Nationals fans, and I’m very blessed and humbled.”
Harper also got some motivation from teammates, current and former ones, who wanted to see him win it in front of the fans in D.C.
“Yeah, I think I had nine [at] the second timeout,” Harper said. “I knew I had 30 seconds. I walked over and I saw Max [Scherzer] and I go, ‘Max I have to hit nine’. And he goes, ‘You’ve got to hit ten.’ And he’s like, okay, there you go. Davey [Martinez] is over there giving me this [okay sign]. We’re firing up and knew [my father] was going to be locked in. He hit my barrel nine straight or something like that.
“I mean, I couldn’t be more fortunate than to have him throwing for me and just so blessed, and, I mean, I don’t know, I’ve got one of the best families in all the world and just so happy to be able to share that moment with them and with my family and this crowd and these fans. Man, they did a great job.”
Even Wilson Ramos, the former Nationals’ catcher, who’s now with the Rays (and is the subject of rumors of interest on Washington’s part) came out to motivate his friend and former teammate.
“He says, ‘Hey, Papi, you got this,’” Harper recounted. “You know Wilson, he’s got that deep voice, and [he said], ‘Nobody better, nobody better.’”
“Me and Willy had a good relationship when he was here. He’s had a great year this year. Very excited for him and very excited for his family. Just seeing Buffalo, he’s a welcoming person, and you know, it was cool. It was a cool moment, I think for not just me personally but the fans of D.C., as well. That was really cool.”
Bryce’s father said he was just happy to be a part of that moment with his son, and happy he was able to hit his barrel like they did during the late run. It was the second time they participated in the HR Derby together, after coming in second in 2013 in Citi Field.
“In 2013, I struggled a little bit,” he said. “I think I hit him. I threw a lot of bad pitches, but I scooted up a little bit this year. I got eight anchors in my shoulder. Had a couple shoulder surgeries. He took a few years [off] and that’s what he wanted to do, and I said I’d be ready.
“I was fortunate enough for him to ask me to do it, and I was happy I could at least get locked in for a minute and get him over that hump. I was worried, like, ‘Oh, don’t screw this up for both of us.
“But he came through. He did great. So I’m really proud of him. I love him to death, man. He’s a great kid. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Harper was asked where this ranks on the long list of accomplishments in his career.
“I don’t have to do it ever again, so that’s good,” Harper said, acknowledging again that he was a reluctant participant. “This is something you grow up and you want. I think the past month or so, I’ve been thinking about it, and to be able to get this trophy -- this is one of the cooler trophies, MVP is cool, but that plaque -- this is really cool. It’s one of the best I have. Kind of right up there with my Silver Slugger. I’m really happy to have it.”
And he was really happy to do it in front of the fans in the nation’s capital.
“This is for the whole city of D.C.,” Harper said. “I was very fortunate to be able to bring this back to them and do it here.”
“I woke up this morning and talking to my wife, I was like, I just want to enjoy it, win, lose or draw. That’s all I can ask for, and to have the crowd show up like they did and to have the support of my family, like I said, and my D.C. family, and Dave Martinez out there fired up as all-get up.
“I have one of the best managers in all the baseball, glad to have him at our helm. He’s a guy I would run through a brick wall for, and I was trying to do that for him tonight.”
He did it.