Most fascinating is the way he rises to key moments as if they are meant for him. After the Nats had that team meeting, Harper came out in the first inning and ignited the Nats with a two-run homer. Later that night, he hit an upper-deck, this-one’s-just-for-Ozzie, tape-measure homer in an 8-4 win.
Even though Harper spent the season’s first 20 games in the minors, he needs three runs for 100, one triple for 10, three steals for 20 and two homers to tie Tony Conigliaro at 24 for the most ever by a teenager. The complete stat line that Harper almost clones is Mays — at 20.
When all-star players get hot, their streaks usually look like what Harper has done the past 32 games. It doesn’t mean he’s going to Cooperstown, but Harper did it the first time they ever turned the stage lights up to “full bright.” That counts, too.
The Nats have many fine everyday players. But they don’t have a heart-of-the-order superstar. To win the World Series, you usually need at least one. Maybe Harper needs a couple of more years to be that player. Ken Griffey did. Or maybe he goes off the rails. In spring training, GM Mike Rizzo called Harper into his office for a meeting (after Harper’s I-wanna-be-the-Joe-Namath-of-D.C. tweet) and read him the full-blown riot act. There were no more tweets, and Harper started the year in the minors.
As the Nats’ crowd roared deep into the night Monday, Harper glowed, talking about how he wants “20 more” such celebrations. Was he proud of his first pennant race performance? “We got some more games,” he said, never off-message when it comes to the next achievement.
“I don’t even know how I feel. These people, they’re goin’ crazy here behind me,” he said, breaking into an actual, age-appropriate ear-to-ear grin. “My main thing, when they called me up, I didn’t want to come in here and screw things up. They were already in first place.”
True. But since then, especially in the past few weeks, nobody has done more to keep them there.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/