CHICAGO – Bryce Harper brought one of those pink bats most major leaguers use on Mother’s Day to home plate at Wrigley Field seven times Sunday. He never swung it. Six times, the Chicago Cubs walked him, tying a major league record. Once, they hit him. No player in baseball history had ever compiled a day like his: seven plate appearances, no official at-bats. He saw 27 pitches. Two were strikes.
“They had a plan. They stuck with their plan,” said Harper, who joined Jimmie Foxx, Andre Thornton and Jeff Bagwell as the only players in history to walk six times in one game.
“Unfortunately it worked.”
Harper went 1 for 4 in this weekend’s four-game series with the Cubs. They walked him 13 times. None of the last 11 times he appeared at the plate count as official at-bats, because he walked 10 times and hit a sacrifice fly.
“If I don’t swing the bat against [John] Lackey one time [Friday], I think I walk 16 times,” Harper said.
The Cubs swept the Nationals. Their strategy was a success.
“If the other guy gets you, that’s fine. You have no problem with that,” Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said. “I know [Harper] hasn’t been as hot as he can be coming into this series, but you don’t want him to get hot. We did what we had to do today, and it happened to work.”
The strategy worked because Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman left 14 men on base behind Harper, managing one hit on a groundball to deep third that Kris Bryant could not corral. Harper said he has “all the faith in the world” in Zimmerman. Zimmerman said he thinks teams would walk Harper regardless of who was hitting behind him. He also said hitting behind Harper, when teams choose to pitch to him instead, is “the spot I want to be in.”
Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said he hadn’t “really had the time to think about,” exactly what happened in the middle of his order Sunday, but that he could feel pressure mounting on Zimmerman as Sunday’s game went on.
“I’m sure it’s killing him,” Baker said. “We just have to go back to the drawing board and keep on fighting.”
Baker also suggested that fans did not come to see Harper walk, but rather to see him “swing the bat.” At one point, as it became clear the Cubs were going to intentionally walk him again, Harper shook his head. Nationals starter Tanner Roark called walking Harper “scared baseball.”
“Most of the time you have faith in your pitchers to challenge a guy, but apparently not,” Roark said. “I don’t know. I’d rather pitch to somebody who is the best, the reigning NL MVP, and feel good about myself.”
Then again, the plan paid off. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told reporters that he and Harper ran out of things to talk about at first base. But while the Cubs could laugh Sunday off, the Nationals could not. Harper walked 13 times this series and was hit once. He scored three times in four games.
“I think a couple weeks ago, I was getting a little frustrated with it. But now, I’m just getting back to where I’ve been last year,” Harper said. “ . . . You’re on base, and that’s what the team asks you to do, so if I can get on base every single time I get up there, then I’m doing it the right way.”
Two of the intentional passes loaded the bases, in the 10th and 12th, though as Zimmerman pointed out, that is not as much of a risk with two outs – which was the case on both occasions – as it would be otherwise, since it takes a hit to score a run. But the unintentional walks occasionally include a pitch or two near the strike zone, if not in it. Still, Harper isn’t tempted.
“I don’t need to [swing]. If I can get a pitch down the middle of the plate, I’ll swing,” Harper said. “If not, then I’m not.”