Matt Kemp drilled a walk-off home run off Tom Gorzelanny in the 10th, the Los Angeles Dodgers stole a 4-3 victory and one of the most delicious nights since baseball returned to Washington turned, after Henry Rodriguez’s ninth-inning implosion, into a moment that never was.
Harper produced memories, like the bullet throw from shallow left field to home plate in the seventh inning, the flipping off of his helmet on his first career hit. Stephen Strasburg operated at the height of his considerable powers. Vin Scully had the call. But the Dodgers scored two runs in the ninth inning after Rodriguez threw three wild pitches, including one that scored the game-tying run, and the crowd chanted “M-V-P!” after Kemp led off with a bomb to center.
Harper, the first overall pick in 2010, the youngest major leaguer since 2005, savored every moment but the last. The ball from his first hit rested in his locker. His family watched from the stands. He wondered when it would all sink in.
“Oh, man, this is beautiful,” he said afterward. “This is unbelievable coming out here. It’s just a blessing having this night.”
Before the game began, Harper sat in the dugout and thought, “Oh, man, I’m in the big leagues.” But he felt at ease, like he belonged. First baseman Adam LaRoche plopped down next to him, and Harper told him, “I feel really calm right now.”
“I didn’t have butterflies at all, really,” Harper said. “I think that’s really the first time I haven’t gotten butterflies.”
In one astonishing game, the Nationals’ two first overall picks validated all the hype attached the start of their careers. Harper, the youngest player in the majors since 2005, went 1 for 3 with a missile of a double off the base of the center field wall. As he sprinted to second, he flipped the helmet off his head. Strasburg, 23, allowed one controversial run over seven innings, striking out nine, including Kemp twice.
What did this game not have? What more could you want? The Dodgers smacked three consecutive hits and scored a run off Rodriguez. In the middle of that, a fan jumped out of the right field bleachers and sprinted across the outfield toward Harper before a dozen cops tackled a few feet away from the left fielder. Harper stood still.
“I probably would have leveled him if he came up to me,” Harper said.
But the craziest moment for Harper in left happened in the seventh, with the Nationals leading, 1-0, on LaRoche’s solo homer. A.J. Ellis rolled a single through the left side of the infield. Jerry Hairston wheeled around third base as Harper leaned down and scooped the ball, the tying run steaming toward the plate. Harper crow-hopped and unleashed the arm that, in high school, threw 96-mph fastballs. The ball zoomed on a laser to catcher Wilson Ramos, a perfect strike. Ramos tagged Hairston, a perfect play at the perfect time . . . until the ball trickled away from Ramos.