Before Bryce Harper was thrown at in the Nationals’ 9-2 sweep-sealing, benches-clearing romp over the Cubs, he started the scoring barrage with his ferocious brand of baserunning.
With one out in the first inning, Harper lashed a line drive to the left-center field gap off Cubs starter Justin Germano. As the ball bounded around the corner, Harper bolted for third. He pressures the defense, makes them make a play, and this time he tested cutoff man Starlin Castro, the Cubs’ shortstop.
“Good throw, he’s dead meat,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That’s just the way he’s going to be – all out.”
Castro’s relay throw sailed wide, and Harper slid in headfirst with a triple. He became the first teenager with at least seven triples since Buddy Lewis knocked 13 for the 1936 Senators.
Ryan Zimmerman followed and tapped a dribbler to the left of the mound, which Germano fielded. Just off third base, Harper froze as Germano looked him back. Germano, satisfied Harper would behave like the other 99 percent of major league baserunners, turned his back and threw to first.
Harper did not behave like other major league baserunners. He did not take two quiet steps back to third base. He ran like the fastest kid in Little League, the one who runs until he is tagged out and makes other parents want to look at his birth certificate. He ran like someone dared him to. Harper darted, hell-bent for home.
“When he turned his back from me, started creeping a little more and got going,” Harper said.
“He might be one of the only people who could do that,” Johnson said.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo saw Harper’s dash out of the corner of his eye. Rizzo throws left-handed – same as Laynce Nix, the Philadelphia Phillies first baseman on May 6, the night Harper stole home off Cole Hamels. A lefty takes longer to pivot and throw home. Harper knew that. It may not have mattered.
“As soon as the pitcher goes he’s gone,” Johnson said. “He don’t care if he’s right-handed or left-handed.”
Rizzo fired home, but by the time his throw reached the plate Harper was sliding flat on his stomach into the dish. The Nationals had tied the score at 1, and the rest of the roster could forget about the notion of going easy against the Cubs.