When Harper crossed home plate, he pointed to his parents, a retired ironworker named Ron and a paralegal named Sheri, sitting behind home plate. He slapped high-fives with teammates. Zimmerman told him, “Calm down. You don’t have to hit me so hard.”
The Nationals did not manage another hit off Nolasco, long their nemesis, until Harper’s next at bat. He battled to a full count, and Nolasco, out of pitches to show him after Harper took a 2-2 splitter, settled on a 3-2 slider. Harper unloaded, taking a split-second to admire his bolt. The ball sailed 10 rows deep.
A small group chanted, “M-V-P!” The crowd would not cease cheering or sit down. Harper asked veteran Chad Tracy if he should hop out of the dugout for a curtain call. “I don’t think he even waited for an answer,” Tracy said.
Zimmerman stepped out of the batter’s box. Harper took his curtain call, waving his hand over his head.
Strasburg continued to slice through the Marlins, using his power sinker, which reached 98 mph, and his breaking pitches to keep them off balance and rolling grounders — 10 in all. Johnson worried the festivities of the occasion had “drained” his starter.
“If it wasn’t opening day or the first start of the year, it would have been a different story,” Strasburg said.
In the one moment Strasburg fell into trouble, Harper found himself in the middle of things. In the seventh inning, Stanton and Placido Polanco ripped consecutive one-out hits to put runners on the corners. Rob Brantly followed with a fly ball to left.
Harper settled under the ball as Stanton readied at third base. He snagged the ball while charging forward and unleashed a wicked throw. Stanton, smartly, stayed at third. The throw drew an ovation — and maybe a little scorn from the dugout. Johnson would have preferred Harper hit the cutoff man.
“I’m going to try to throw everybody out,” Harper said.
Said Johnson: “It’s hard for me to figure what’s going on in his mind. I know he’s always full bore.”
Polanco, perhaps anticipating Stanton to run home, drifted off first base. Catcher Wilson Ramos held the ball, waiting for Polanco to retreat. Ramos fired to first baseman Adam LaRoche, who trapped Polanco by firing to Danny Espinosa. Stanton raced for home, and Espinosa turned and fired home to nab him, Ramos making a nifty tag.
“Just kind of hung him out to dry,” LaRoche said.
Soriano ended it with a professional, dominant save, whiffing Stanton flailing at a breaking ball in the dirt, and the Nationals lined up and shook hands. The 2012 National League East championship banner loomed behind them. Just to the right, four flags flew. Three of them were adorned with seasons in which Washington won the pennant.
The fourth was blank. But you could use your imagination.
“I think the perfect formula,” Harper said later, “would be a World Series win.”