“I’ve got no words for it,” Harper said. “Hopefully it’s one of many.”
Sandy Leon had waited, too, for Monday night to come. His family and friends watched on television from his home in Venezuela as he made his major league debut. He earned his way to the majors, at 23, for his skill behind the plate, for not allowing runs to score easily. So as Chase Headley bore down on him in the fourth inning, Leon blocked the plate. Moments later, Leon left his first big league start with a sprained ankle, his arms slung over the shoulders of a trainer and a coach.
“He’s such an outstanding young man,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “His first big league game, all pumped up. That’s tough.”
The two firsts, Harper’s joy and Leon’s deflation, defined a wild Nationals win. The Nationals jumped to a 4-1 lead, which left-hander Ross Detwiler could not hold. Long reliever Craig Stammen continued his invaluable season with two scoreless relief innings, holding the Padres until Ian Desmond’s two-RBI double high off the right-center wall in the sixth, part of a 3-for-5 game, gave the Nationals the lead.
Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady added home runs in the eighth to provide breathing room. The Nationals needed it. In the ninth, hours after Johnson affirmed his faith in closer Henry Rodriguez after a calamitous ninth inning Sunday, Rodriguez threw his second pitch to the backstop and walked the bases loaded with one out.
Sean Burnett replaced him and saved the day by inducing a 1-2-3 double play. “That’s the way you’d draw it up,” he said. The Nationals lined up and shook hands, and Johnson again professed his faith in Rodriguez.
“I still have a lot of confidence in him,” Johnson said. “I went up to him after the game, I said, ‘Henry, you’re my man.’ ”
Rather than celebrate another victory, the Nationals had to absorb another injury. Two days after Wilson Ramos tore his right anterior cruciate ligament, the Nationals placed Leon on the disabled list with a right high-ankle sprain and planned to call up Carlos Maldonado from Class AAA Syracuse. Leon became the 10th National to spend time on the DL this year.
The injury scrubbed away the festive atmosphere Harper’s home run provided. Harper came to the plate in the third inning for his 62nd major league plate appearance and his 54th at-bat. Harper had hit only one homer in 72 minor league plate appearances, but he had not thought about the drought.