The Nationals trailed, 7-0, by the end of two innings as the Rockies pummeled starter Edwin Jackson. After 41
2 innings, they had come all the way back and tied the game at 9. But reliever Tom Gorzelanny was defenseless against Coors Field, and even after Harper delivered the biggest homer of his short career, the Nationals sulked off the field.
The series brought a confidence boost to Washington’s offense and a letdown in the standings. Before Tuesday, the Nationals (43-31) had scored 25 runs in 10 games. They have scored 33 in their last three. And yet, they still managed only a split of their four-game series against the woeful Rockies (29-46), one of three teams yet to reach 30 wins. They head to Atlanta for three games against the second-place Braves with a bullpen that on Thursday churned through five pitchers in eight innings.
“That was a tough one,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “They kind of beat us up. That’s the bad news. We’re going to be a little short-handed tomorrow. Just a tough loss.”
Both teams failed to score over three innings — a remarkable feat in this series — before Harper led off the ninth against Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, the Nationals trailing 10-9. He worked the count to 1-1, and Betancourt threw him a slider over the plate.
Harper unleashed his vicious swing There was no doubt, only a hush. The ball banged off the back wall of the Rockies’ bullpen in right field, a few feet shy of the upper deck. The Nationals had tied the game.
The home run provided Harper relief in a difficult series in which he went 5 for 20 with seven strikeouts and no walks.
“The whole series, they’ve been pitching me out, out, out, out, out, out,” Harper said. “They didn’t throw me one strike the whole series. They got some questionable calls from the ump, I thought, but whatever. I don’t care. I got a pitch over the plate, drove it, 10-10 ballgame.”
In his past 13 games, Harper has struck out 17 times while walking four times, hitting .222 over the span. He knows the umpires are not the only reason. He chased pitches out of the strike zone, especially away. In Harper’s final at-bat Thursday, Adam Ottavino struck him out on a breaking ball near his feet. Harper pirouetted on one foot as he finished his hack.
“It’s a little tough right now,” Harper said. “But I’ll grow and I’ll get older, and they won’t be able to do that anymore. I’ll take my walks.”