In the Nationals’ 2-1, 10-inning victory over the San Francisco Giants, Harper rose above the throbbing pain and minor controversy inflicted on him during the Nationals’ West Coast swing. With a thunderous bat, redemptive defense and, finally, his speed on the bases, Harper grabbed the game by the throat and sent the Nationals back to Washington with a win that snapped a four-game skid.
Gio Gonzalez shut the defending world champions down for 71
3 innings, and Harper took care of the rest. Harper smashed an opposite-field home run off side-winding lefty Madison Bumgarner, the 12th homer of his age-20 season. He overcame his hard-earned aversion to outfield walls to make a crucial defensive play against the fence. He roped a double to right in the 10th inning. He scored the game-winning run — sprinting on a swollen knee freshly hurt on a sliding catch two innings earlier — on Ian Desmond’s single off Jeremy Affeldt, sliding in ahead of right fielder Hunter Pence’s throw.
“I was just glad I squared something up, finally, on this road trip,” Harper said. “I just really had been struggling ever since I faced the Braves and hit the wall.
“To square something up and have a few good ABs in this last road game, to get home, it feels very good.”
Gonzalez allowed four hits as he reprised his all-star form. The Giants still sent the game into extra innings with a run off Drew Storen, charged to Gonzalez, in the eighth inning. Once Harper gave the Nationals the lead in the top of the 10th, Rafael Soriano bounced back from his blown save Tuesday night with a 1-2-3 inning. After Roger Bernadina caught Marco Scutaro’s two-out fly ball on the left field warning track, Soriano ripped out his shirttail.
“It’s gonna be a good flight home,” Gonzalez said.
The Nationals’ 10-day trip included all manner of calamities. Harper smashed into the Dodger Stadium outfield fence. Ross Detwiler missed a start with an injured oblique. Wilson Ramos landed on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring, the same injury that prevented Jayson Werth from even making the trip. Reliever Ryan Mattheus broke his throwing hand punching a locker. Soriano blew two saves, and after the second Tuesday night told USA Today his 4-year-old son would have better positioned himself on Harper’s crucial misplay. Their offense scored 2.8 runs per game.
And yet, they finished the trip 4-6, a result they would not have preferred when they left Washington but nowhere near a disaster.
“We’re looking for something that can ignite, can get us going,” center fielder Denard Span said. “This was definitely a good win going into a day off.”