Before Edwin Jackson took control and before Tyler Clippard let the game slip away, Friday night momentarily turned into a showcase for Bryce Harper‘s right arm.
With the Nationals leading 2-1, Ryan Braun led off the fourth inning with his second double of the game off Jackson. Harper manages to find some way to shine on most nights, and here the game presented him the chance.
Aramis Ramirez ripped a line drive up the middle, and with the crack of the bat Braun bolted to third. As Harper attacked the ball, Brewers third base coach Ed Sedar windmilled Braun home. Harper fielded the ball and readied to throw with alarming speed. With his momentum still carrying him forward, he fired a laser. His follow-through left him only a few steps behind second base.
“I just picked it up and threw it,” Harper said. “I didn’t even know where Braun was. I was just trying to throw him out.”
Harper’s throw hissed through the air and popped into Jesus Flores’s glove, chest-high. Flores held his ground as Braun slid into his shin guards, blocking the plate long enough to apply the tag. Harper pointed to Flores. Flores and Jackson, who had been backing up behind the plate, pointed to Harper.
“That was a great throw,” Jackson said. “I felt like that was the play that left it up to me to finish the inning strong. They score that run, it’s a tie game. It’s a different situation. That play was huge for us to definitely keep the momentum in the game.”
The following play unfolded as if to mock the Brewers. Lucroy smacked a single up the middle, identical to Ramirez’s. Ramirez had moved to second on Harper’s previous throw, and now he trundled around third base as Harper charged again.
Sedar stuck his hands the air to hold Ramirez at third and, in this case, to signal surrender. Harper unloaded anyway, rifling a throw low enough for LaRoche, the cutoff man, to catch if he wanted to but strong enough to reach Flores on the fly. The crowd roared with approval when LaRoche let it go.
The Nationals’ defense saved Jackson once more. Travis Ishikawa tapped a weak chopper to the right of second base. Danny Espinosa charged and flipped a nifty backhand toss to Ian Desmond. Desmond beamed a quick relay to first, beating Ishikawa by a step and ending the inning.
Harper’s assist gave him eight on the season, the most for any major league rookie. He has become an elite defensive center fielder, an incredible achievement for a 19-year-old, made more incredible by the fact he played catcher through high school and junior college. There is no great secret. Blunt force works fine. “I just throw the ball,” Harper said, “and try to get people out.”
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