Harper went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts. In his fourth at-bat, in the seventh inning, he grounded out to second base off Reds reliever Jose Arredondo. Back in the dugout, Harper took his bat down the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse and took out his frustration with a fierce swing against the wall.
Baseball players release anger in the same manner on ballfields every day, at every level, but it rarely goes so wrong. The bat bounced off the wall and drilled Harper above his left eye, immediately drawing copious blood.
“I just got caught up in the moment,” Harper said. “I want to do so well. It just got me.”
Manager Davey Johnson said Harper could miss one or two games, but Harper insisted he wanted to play.
“I think I’m good,” Harper said. “The doctor said I could play, so I’m going to play.”
After Harper smacked himself in the head, he shook it off and returned to the field for the bottom of the seventh, blood streaking down the left side of his face.
“Stitched it up as fast as I can and go back out to the outfield,” Harper said.
No teammates asked what happened, because they knew, either from the sound or from personal experience, what had happened.
“I didn’t think much about it,” Johnson said. “We put a band-aid on it, one of those butterflies. That’s what ballplayers do — break bats, throw helmets. That’s not anything new.”
Johnson had few qualms with Harper’s actions, mainly chagrin at his misfortune. “It’s an easy way to get rid of your frustration,” Johnson said. “I’ll speak to him about it, because evidently he went a little overboard. That’s not what you want to do. The equipment is supposed to take the brunt of it. We’ll address that.”
Harper took one more at-bat, striking out in the ninth inning. He said he would be more careful in the future.
“I guess I won’t do it anymore, but I don’t know,” Harper said. “I’ve done it a million times. It’s just a heat-of-the-moment kind of thing. It came back and got me.”
The strange injury overshadowed an uplifting victory. The Nationals arrived here in first place, with the most dominating pitching staff in baseball, but they still had problems to solve. The identity of their left fielder waffled on a daily basis. They needed Espinosa to break his season-long funk and replace some of the slugging the Nationals lost to injury. Their offense rarely showed up before the latter innings.