Center fielder Bryce Harper, known for power and big hits at crucial times, came up with a stellar bunt with two men on during the Nationals’ decisive three-run rally in the eighth inning Sunday night versus the Mets.
Down 5-2, the Nationals rallied to score four runs in a 6-5 comeback victory.
So was Harper bunting for a base hit? Bunting to get the two runners over? Did he decide to bunt on his own?
“No, he was doing it on his own,” said manager Davey Johnson. “I didn’t think it was a bad play, he is bunting for a base hit. It was a heads-up play by the second baseman to be able to get over there and cover. Nine times out of 10, you don’t get over there.”
Earlier in the game, Harper appeared to be favoring his knee, lending to speculation that was the reason he decided to bunt at the critical moment in the game.
“He was limping. I asked him after, I think, his second at-bat,” Johnson said. “I asked, ‘Are you all right?’ He limped coming out of the box and limped after going down to first. But he said he was fine.”
Harper quickly squashed any notion that his knee was a reason for the bunt.
“My knee doesn’t hurt,” he said. “Some other things hurting me, but I will keep those under wraps.”
But Johnson said the Harper bunt attempt was actually a pretty good thought in that situation, considering the Nationals had not been able to get a clutch run-scoring hit with a lot of opportunities at the beginning of the game.
“As tough times we have had with hitting with runners in scoring position, putting the tying run down there ain’t a bad idea, with some pretty good hitters coming up after him,” Johnson said.
Harper confirmed that he wasn’t bunting for a hit that time.
“It was just a sac bunt,” Harper said.” I didn’t really care. Having those guys get to second and third was huge. It started a big inning right there. Jay-dub (Jayson Werth), of course, capped it off with a double. That was huge.”
Werth came up two batters later with the game tied and Zimmerman on first. He smacked the go-ahead double to the right-center gap as the crowd and dugout erupted.
“I was on the top step looking like I was about to go tackle Jay-dub and give him a hug,” Harper said. “I was so fired up. I was very happy he got that knock. I think our whole dugout was ready to run on the field and tell him congrats - and that was awesome. It was an unbelievable moment. It was good.”
Werth said the inning would not have blossomed had it not been for Harper’s bunt. He didn’t care if Harper bunted on his own or not.
“You are just playing baseball,” Werth said. “If that is what he feels, I was a ways away, so I really wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention. I didn’t see any signs or anything like that. But in the moment, baseball players playing baseball and that is what he was doing there.
“Bryce came in and I congratulated him for finally getting (the) bunt down. He reminded me that was two in a row. We had some chances early. We had (Jonathan) Niese on the ropes a few times and just nothing came of it.”
Werth said the club was not getting down despite its many opportunities early on. The Nationals ended up leaving 11 men on base.
“The attitude in the dugout was upbeat,” Werth continued. “Even though we were down, we definitely weren’t out. That is what good clubs do: They come back. That is what we are going to have to do from here on out. We are going to have to find a way. Big win for us.”
So in that game-changing moment, with everyone celebrating, and Werth at second base, how does that feel?
“That is a secret,” Werth smirked. “Only people that do that sort of thing get to know what that feels like.”
And if the Reds had won two of three versus the Rockies and the Mets had swept the Nationals?
“That would have been a totally opposite feeling,” Werth said.
The Nationals now trail the Reds by 6 1/2 games in the race for the final wild card spot.
“That was a big win tonight,” Werth concluded. “We had to get that one. The rest of the way (is) going to be pretty similar.”