Next came Blanco, who became a postseason hero here last year after spending the majority of 2011 at Syracuse, yearning for a chance that never came. Soriano jumped ahead of him, 0-2, then rifled a fastball so high Kurt Suzuki had to leap up from his crouch to catch it. Soriano tried to finish Blanco off with a 1-2 slider. It stayed up, and Blanco bashed it to right field.
Harper had been playing back in “no doubles” alignment. Harper sprinted back, looking over his left shoulder, tracking the ball. It traveled on more of a line than the ball that drove him into the wall in Los Angeles, and Harper never twisted around.
“The ball was hit well,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He could have had another one of those deals where he ran into the wall.”
Harper had not even reached the warning track, though, when he jumped. As the ball traveled over his head, he put his hands down as if to protect himself and glanced at the wall, a good 15 feet away. The ball posed no threat.
“I should have caught it,” Harper said. “I just, I don’t know. I should have caught it. I put that whole loss on me. It really [stinks].
“I make that play any day of the week. It’s not a play that you should not make. It’s 15, five feet from the wall. It’s really a play you should make any time of the day.”
It one-hopped the brick wall as Blanco tore around the bases. He slid into third as pinch runner Andres Torres cruised home with the tying run.
“You got two outs and you play away, if a guy hits a ball, it’s got to be in front of you,” Soriano said. “Not like what happened tonight. I think we can play a better game than that.”
Afterward, Harper flogged himself and vowed to not let the threat of the fence deter him on balls hit over his head.
“Or I’m going to be in Triple A,” Harper said. “That’s how I feel. I better figure it out soon. I need to really try to catch those balls next time.”
But how could he practice such a risky play?
“I really don’t know,” Harper said. “It’s something I got to get over and really try to bear down and do better out there and try to learn every day.”
The Nationals would not have needed Harper’s catch if they had broken their offensive drought. During the afternoon, Johnson had walked off the AT&T Park field, where a handful of Nationals hitters had finished taking some early, extra batting practice, their latest effort to snap their team-wide hitting funk. In the visitors’ dugout, he happened upon a conversation between Denard Span and Harper about Washington’s batting order.