His team desperate for any kind of good news, Bryce Harper came through with the first walk-off home run of his major league career Thursday afternoon. Not only did Harper rescue the Washington Nationals from what would have been an embarrassing and costly loss against a possible rival for a playoff spot, but he gave the Nats their first win of any kind since the All-Star break.
So, it was a big deal. And moments before Harper connected in the bottom of the ninth to give Washington a 9-7 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a psychic feeling came over one of his teammates. Via the Associated Press:
''You could feel it. You could just feel it in the dugout,'' reliever Ian Krol said. ''You know something special's going to happen when you put him in that kind of situation.''
Harper still inspires that kind of confidence, even though he had been stuck in a home-run drought for the past 19 games, and banged up ever since running into the outfield fence at Dodger Stadium in May:
''Great to get the 'W' today. We really needed it,'' said Harper, who sat out Wednesday because of the bothersome left knee that put him on the disabled list until July 1, the last time he homered. ''Hopefully this one will carry on into tomorrow and the next day.''
All of the things that Harper has accomplished at 20 years old, and a game-ending home run wasn't one of them until he went deep to center against Bryan Morris. It figures to be the first of many walkoff drives for Harper. He's going to be fine. But what about the Nats, who are 49-53 and eight games behind the Braves in the NL East? They're even further behind, with more teams to jump over, in the wild card race.
Washington leading the league with 98 victories seems longer than just a season ago. Even after jumping to leads of 4-0 and 7-3 against the Bucs, the Nats weren't safe with closer Rafael Soriano on the mound in the top of the ninth. The Pirates rallied against him — and Krol, after interim manager Randy Knorr made a pitching change. Josh Harrison hit a tying two-run single against Krol, who stopped the rally there to set the stage for Harper.
Harper's heroics might be able to get the team in the right frame of mind after an 0-6 start to the second half, but Washington's problems have gone beyond the mental. Harper might have to hit a ton of clutch home runs.
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