“I’m extremely worried about that, I think about it almost every day,” said Johnson, who wore a red Harper jersey with a prohibition sign taped on the back and an 'X' over the No. 34 on the front. “The Red Sox waited how long [to win a World Series]? I worry we just did that.”
Curse of Bam Bam or no — Harper does wear Ruth’s No. 3 — Tuesday’s loss was one of the bleaker defeats in Nationals history, which is saying something for a team that has dropped three NLDS-deciding Game 5s in the last seven seasons. The start of the game was delayed 40 minutes by rain. Shortstop Trea Turner suffered a broken right index finger when he attempted to bunt in the first inning. Harper struck out in his first two at-bats, but finished with three hits, including a two-run home run punctuated by an epic bat flip. The boos were drowned out by chants of “M-V-P!” and “We’ve got Harper!” from the Philadelphia fans in attendance.
Johnson, who purchased a Scherzer jersey at the ballpark Tuesday and planned to retire his defaced Harper jersey for good, was among the majority of home fans who booed Harper with gusto throughout the game, beginning with the tribute video that played on the center field scoreboard when the Phillies’ lineup was announced.
“I was really happy to be part of that,” Johnson said. “I was booing as loud as I could. It was the right thing to do. He left us. Granted, maybe it’s partially the fault of the Nationals, and maybe they didn’t necessarily want him, but he had an opportunity to sign with us. He wasn’t giving them the signals to negotiate a long-term extension when he was still here.”
Nats fan Allyse Yorgey, who flew in from South Carolina to attend Harper’s homecoming with her sister and dad, a Phillies fan, was originally inclined to join in the chorus of boos, but said she was swayed by the Instagram farewell post Harper posted on Tuesday morning.
“It kind of reminded me what he did here,” Yorgey said before the game. “It was mixed emotions. It’s a month late and I didn’t like that part, so I think I might just not do anything."
If more fans had opted for silence instead of boos, maybe it would’ve been easier to hear the scattered cheers for a player who popped out of the home dugout for curtain calls on multiple occasions during his time in D.C.
“I think he’s a snake for [signing with the Phillies],” 18-year-old Ryan Winter said after booing Harper, while wearing an unaltered Harper Nationals jersey, in his first at-bat. “I think that’s pretty cruddy to go inside the division. He could’ve gone to L.A. or anywhere else, and that would have been a lot easier. I was hoping everyone was going to boo him. I can’t wait for his next at-bat to get some more boos in."
“I’ll absolutely boo him,” said George Contreras, who used tape to transform his Harper No. 34 into a Scherzer No. 31.
Wayne Rumsey, one of the few fans at Tuesday’s game wearing a Harper Nationals jersey that wasn’t defaced, arrived with a plan for welcoming Harper back to D.C.
“I was here at the Home Run Derby and it was one of the best events of my life, so I’ll give him one round of applause and then I’ll put the jersey away and be done with him,” Rumsey said. “First at-bat, he’s my guy. After that, I’m rooting for Scherzer.”
Richard Schulz, a 24-year-old bartender from Lancaster, Pa., who sported a white Harper Nationals jersey, said he didn’t resent Harper for following the money.
“He’s looking out for himself and his family,” Schulz said. “It [stinks] what happened, but when you’re offered a historically large contract, I can’t blame the guy for taking it. It was well deserved.”
That’s not to say Schulz gave Harper a standing ovation the first time he stepped to the plate.
“I laughed a little bit, I booed a little bit and I cheered a little bit,” Schulz said. “When he struck out swinging, I cheered a lot."
Phillies fans used to take pride in referring to Nationals Park as Citizens Bank Park South, and for one night, the boos originating from the home crowd sounded downright Philadelphian. Michelle King, a die-hard Nationals and Red Sox fan from Boston who never leaves a game before the final out, said the reception for Harper amounted to bad sportsmanship.
“Root for your team, but don’t boo a player who left,” King said. “Players come and go all the time, and he’s a great player who got a great deal. Philly wanted him. The Nats didn’t really offer him a good deal.”
King noted that most of the prominent players who have left the Red Sox and Nationals during her lifetime, including Jacoby Ellsbury and Ian Desmond, haven’t performed better with their new teams. Harper is on pace to inflict more damage against the Nationals than Ruth did against the Red Sox. After Boston sold his rights to New York following the 1919 season, Ruth didn’t hit his first home run against his former team until their fifth meeting.
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