You need somebody who doesn’t care if he’s hitting under .200 since he made the National League all-star team at age 19, who doesn’t care that the manager in the other dugout tried to start a feud to get under his skin, who doesn’t even care that, maybe, he should still be in Class AAA “developing.”
You need Bryce Harper, hitting just .252, making mistakes in the outfield at times, because he’s going to jack a change-up into the bleachers in the fourth inning to get the dugout grinning with a 2-0 lead. You need him because, next time up, he will hit one so far into the upper deck that the fans it awakened probably can’t even hear Ozzie Guillen cursing.
“They threw away the mold,” Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said Thursday as his team returned home relaxed after an 8-4 win over the Marlins, happy for an 11-game homestand because, more than any other player, a teen had come up big when the team needed a jolt.
“Bryce has had that flair for the dramatic from the start,” reliever Craig Stammen said before the start of a four-game series against St. Louis. “All season, it seems like when we’ve needed a spark, he’s been the one to give it to us quite a few times.”
Reliever Drew Storen echoed, “Just watch: Bryce will do something amazing tonight.” Then, catching himself, Storen realized he’d fallen into the same trap as fans — predicting the nearly impossible for Harper — and expanded the time frame. “No, make that ‘He’ll do something special in this series.’ ”
Old managers and young players agree.
“When we were in Houston, a bunch of college guys drove four hours to see Harper play. And they should,” Storen said. “In college I was dying to see Ichiro [Suzuki]. Harper and [Stephen] Strasburg should be talked about. Big-time guys, big-time stars, that’s fair. The rest of us don’t care. We win. That matters.”
That’s why you cut “Bam-Bam” some slack, at least for now, when he cracks himself in the head with his own bat until he bleeds. Or when he smashes bats in half on home plate or over his knee in rage.
Or when he demolishes equipment in the tunnel when he gets double-switched out of a game and doesn’t know enough baseball to realize it was the only smart baseball move and has nothing to do with him. Or when he throws to the wrong base or misses the cutoff man so badly that, twice, the manager has benched him the next day, but called it something else.
Or when, on Wednesday Harper showed Johnson an injury on the top of his head from bouncing around. “I don’t want to know” what happened, Johnson said. “At least I know he’s not tired. He’s running into things.”