In the Nationals’ resounding 9-1 victory Wednesday over the Chicago Cubs, Bryce Harper carved another piece of history for himself. His two home runs gave him 17, moving him to third-most all-time in a single season by a teenager. He vaulted over Ken Griffey Jr. and now trails only Mel Ott (18 in 1928) and Tony Conigliaro (24 in 1964).
Harper crushed multiple homers for the second time this season, and also for the second time in the past seven games he started. The two homers on Wednesday could hardly have come in more impressive fashion. For the first, he smashed a first-pitch sinker off right-handed starter Chris Volstad, which rocketed off the back wall of the visitors’ bullpen in left-center field.
The second may have been the hardest-hit ball of the Nationals’ season. Against right-handed reliever Michael Bowden, Harper annihilated a first-pitch change-up. The ball zoomed with an unfamiliar trajectory. It was a line drive that was not straight, but rather upward, a linear graph.
“A 3-iron,” reliever Drew Storen said.
“Nuked,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
The stadium stopped the ball when the missile reached the middle of the deck above the Nationals’ bullpen in right field. Later, Manager Davey Johnson was asked if he had seen any balls hit with such force all year.
“A couple others he’s hit,” Johnson said.
Harper has emphatically ended the slump that held him down for much of the start of the second half. He became “overly aggressive,” Johnson said, swinging too hard and at too many pitches out of the strike zone. He calmed down his swing and become more selective. Harper also took two walks Wednesday, a positive sign.
“We’re watching him daily make the adjustments,” LaRoche said. “He wants those fastballs to hit, and you’re not going to get them when you continue to chase. I do it, too. When we continue to go after the sliders or the change-ups out of the zone, it just doesn’t set up to get the fastball to hit. So you can see him. He’s still going back and forth a little bit.
“He’ll have an at-bat every now and then where he gets a little jumpy. But the biggest thing with him I tell him – and we try to preach this as a group – is just to see it. Just slow everything down and see it. And when he does that, he’s not chasing, he’s more patient, he’s going to take some walks and in turn he’s going to get those fastballs he’s been hunting.”
Wednesday night, Harper played in front of his parents. He was asked if that made his two-homer game any more special. “They’ve seen it a couple times,” Harper said.