Unwarranted or not, Bryce Harper somehow is often at the center of the action. Drawing the ire of opponents and rival fans isn’t new: he was booed at Dodger Stadium in his major league debut last season and Cole Hamels plunked him in only his eighth major league game. Drawing more attention certainly hasn’t helped: he has also been ejected three times and jawed with umpires.
What happened this weekend in Atlanta may have been perhaps the most eventful series of his major league career, particularly in regards to the treatment he received. And at least publicly, Harper views his experience at Turner Field as motivational.
“I was fine,” he said. “I love when the crowd goes crazy if they boo me. I live for that situation. I think a lot of guys do. Just like the old commercials, ‘We live for this.’ Live for the booing and they’re going crazy. It makes me a better player.
It was not the first time Harper has said he turns catcalls into motivation. But to understand Harper’s sentiment, here’s a reminder of what happened during the weekend’s drama-filled three-game series.
>>> In Friday 3-2 10-inning loss, Harper was hit by Alex Wood with a first-pitch curveball in the fourth inning. He was hit by a first-pitch 91-mph fastball from Luis Avilan in the eighth inning of a one-run game. He watched as fans applauded his plunking and gave Avilan a standing ovation as he walked into the dugout. Harper kept his cool during both hit-by-pitches. He went 1 for 2 with a walk. He was booed before every at-bat.
>>> In Saturday’s 8-7 15-inning victory, Harper was scratched from the lineup with a bruised tricep, where he was hit by Avilan. In apparent retaliation for Harper’s plunkings, Stephen Strasburg hit Justin Upton with a first-pitch fastball and was later ejected, along with Davey Johnson. After Scott Hairston was tossed, Harper was forced into action in the ninth inning. He was booed when he took left field. He played seven innings and finished 0 for 2. He was booed before every at-bat.
>>> In Sunday’s 2-1 loss, Harper started and went 2 for 4, both hits off Julio Teheran, who hit him with a pitch on Aug. 6 after Harper hit a homer run off him, the incident that began this entire saga. Harper was called out on a check swing in the bottom of the ninth against Craig Kimbrel with the tying run on first base. He jawed some at third base umpire Marvin Hudson as he walked off the field, with Jayson Werth trying to direct Harper into the dugout. He was booed before every at-bat.
After Friday’s walk-off loss, Harper behaved just like his dejected teammates. He was solemn and beaten up. He wasn’t in the mood for talking then. And even two days later, he wanted to avoid the topic of the hit-by-pitches. “I don’t want to comment on that,” he said after Sunday’s game. Instead, reflecting on the weekend and how he was treated during the past three games, Harper turned positive.
“I love these fans,” he said. “I really do. These people are absolutely unbelievable for their team. If I was playing for a team like this and had a crowd like that I’d be stoked to play here every night, too. I love playing at Nats Park. We have a great crowd, too. Going to Philly. Going here. Fenway. New York. There are so many great crowd. This is a fan base and organization that really love the Braves.”
Harper’s frustration during this weekend was most evident after the final out of the series. He tried to hold up on a 1-2 slider from Kimbrel but couldn’t. He appeared briefly to come around on a check swing, but it happened too quickly to be sure. Hudson rung up Harper, who kept cool until he was near the dugout. Asked what he said to Hudson, Harper’s tongue was planted firmly in between a full cheeky: “I just told him how good he was and how good he looked.”
“I think in that situation you can’t really call that especially when the home plate umpire says no about three times and doesn’t want to check and they obviously check and they bang me,” Harper added. “That’s one less pitch I get to see against him, possibly a 2-2 fastball. Kimbrel is a great closer. I think trying to see as many pitches as you can against him is huge and the deeper I get in the count it makes me stronger.”
Aside from the brief encounter with the umpire, Harper and the Nationals have been beaten up by the Braves in most every way this season, especially this weekend. It has only added to the exasperation. On the field, they have won 12 of the 16 meetings. They have won seven of the eight one-run games.
They have outscored the Nationals 63-37 in the season series. They have won three of the four extra-inning meetings between them. They have a 15 1/2 game lead in the National League East on the defending champions. They have so beaten the Nationals into submission that it took until the third plunking of Harper for the Nationals to respond. But by then, Harper had already experienced a hectic weekend.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Indianapolis 2: Yunesky Maya allowed two runs on 10 hits over seven innings. Mark Lowe lowered his ERA to 2.74. Xavier Cedeno’s ERA is at 1.47. Zach Walters went 2 for 4 and drove in his 68th run. Eury Perez and Jhonatan Solano both went 2 for 4.
Portland 2, Harrisburg 1: Taylor Hill allowed two runs, both unearned, on six hits over seven innings. Richie Mirowski tossed two scoreless innings and has a 1.46 ERA. Carlos Rivero homered. Justin Bloxom and Sean Nicol each smacked two hits.
Potomac 3, Wilmington 2 (7): Blake Schwartz allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings and Robert Benincasa tossed 1 2/3 scoreless. Adrian Sanchez went 2 for 3. Cole Leonida and Michael Taylor each drove in a run.
Potomac 2, Wilmington 0 (7): Brian Dupra tossed five scoreless innings and Rafael Martin struck out five of the eight batters he faced over two scoreless. Cole Leonida and Bradon Miller drove in the game’s lone runs.
Jamestown 7, Auburn 1: Ryan Ullman coughed up six runs, five earned, over five innings. Benjamin Grisz tossed a scoreless inning and John Simms allowed a run. Cody Gunter and Matt Reistetter each notched two hits.
The GCL Nationals are 42-8.