Harper went 1 for 3 with a walk and a single that nearly scored a game-changing run. With two outs and a man on third in the eighth inning, having already thrown more than 110 pitches, Hamels faced Harper for the last time. Harper pounded a change-up into the ground, and shortstop Freddy Galvis made the play. Hamels walked off the mound to a standing ovation.
“He had every pitch working for him,” Harper said. “Fastball, curveball, change-up, cutter, you name it, he had it. . . . He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s 7-1 for a reason.”
Hamels discarded the theatrics that caused Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo to call him “fake tough” on May 7, the day after Hamels hit Harper. The 2008 World Series MVP instead offered a quiet reminder that he remains one of the best pitchers in baseball. He lowered his ERA to 2.17. Against the Nationals this season, the lone run Hamels has allowed in 16 innings came when Harper stole home after reaching base on the intentional plunking.
When Harper dug in as the second batter of the game, the hype leading up to the at-bat suggested Hamels could do anything short of pulling a ninja throwing star from his back pocket and chucking it at Harper.
“That’s probably why we were ‘Wednesday Night Baseball,’ ” Harper said. “Pretty cool that we got to be on ESPN.”
Harper had repeated over and over that the plunking from his last meeting would have no bearing, and the heat of the moment did not change that. “Not at all,” he said.
Hamels started Harper with a 90-mph cutter on the outside for ball one. Harper fouled off the next pitch, then whacked another cutter to left field for the first out.
“I felt good up there against him,” Harper said. “I missed one to left. I think I should have hit that ball out, but it happens.”
Hamels allowed three walks in the first four innings, including one to a patient Harper in the fourth, on eight pitches. Harper used his considerable speed to reach third on two fly outs to center field. After the fifth, though, the Nationals still had no hits.
“When he’s throwing 93, 95, he’s got his cutter working, his change-up can be devastating,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. “He was throwing hard tonight, and his change-up was around 82. When you have that much difference between your fastball and your change-up, that’s tough.”