It is no secret that if the Nationals are going to get on a roll and wrest control of the National League East from the Braves and Phillies, a couple of their biggest bats - Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy - will need to lead that run.
Sunday night, down 6-2 to the Phillies, Harper and Murphy led the attack in a spectacular 8-6 comeback win.
Harper had a career-high three doubles and Murphy delivered the game’s biggest knock, a two-run single in the eighth, which highlighted a three-run rally to lift the Nationals to their 12th comeback win of the season.
Murphy went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in his first multi-hit game of the season. He felt that his timing at the plate is slowly making progress toward where he was last season when everything was clicking.
“I think it’s getting better,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But I feel a little more comfortable each day.”
Harper struck out in his first two at-bats, and then ignited the offense with three consecutive doubles. One key for Harper in those three two-base hits is the one double that went to left-center.
“I’ve said it every day, man. I think getting pitches over the plate, it’s huge,” Harper said. “I didn’t get any pitches over the plate the first at-bat; maybe one or two. Then I chased, and chased again the second at-bat. My swing feels great. I just got to get a pitch over the plate that I can drive.”
Manager Davey Martinez has talked about how the Nats might find a way to get Harper out of his recent struggles. He always pointed toward the goal of getting Harper to swing only at pitches in his zone.
“Like I said, he’s been working diligently on swinging at strikes,” Martinez said. “That’s the biggest thing, they haven’t really pitched to him. He got the ball in the zone today. When he hit that ball to left-center field, I turned around and said that should get him going right there. Because that’s him. When he’s going really good, that’s what he should be doing.”
And what was great for Harper in particular was the emotion he displayed at second base after his final double of the evening. It reminded many of the emotion he showed when he was a rookie, or in 2015 when he was taking home the National League Most Valuable Player honors.
Martinez said that such displays from Harper are a great sign he is locked in.
“For me, and I’ve said this before, he’s been totally engaged,” Martinez said. “I mean he really has. In the clubhouse, with us, he’s all in. I can’t say enough about him. His attitude’s been good, but I think today being rewarded and us playing the way we played, that’s what you saw from him. He had some frustrations because he wasn’t getting hits and stuff, not getting pitched to, and it felt good. It was gratifying.”
Sunday’s win delivered a positive impact for the psyche of the team as the Nats head to St. Petersburg, Fla., and a date with the Tampa Bay Rays, who just swept the first-place New York Yankees. Losing Sunday would have stung because the Nats certainly didn’t want to get swept by a division foe on their home field.
“It was a good win,” Murphy said.” We’re coming out of the rain delay, too, and all of a sudden they have some great at-bats and it’s 6-2 and you’re thinking ‘We have a chance to get swept out of here.’
“But to salvage that game right there, play well, come back from down like that, bullpen did a great job giving us a chance to do it, too, throwing up some big zeros late in the game. I don’t know how it will affect us moving forward, but I can tell you a win heading onto the airplane is a lot sweeter than a loss.”
If Harper and Murphy can get back to being consistent at the plate at the same time, that will spell a lot of problems for Atlanta and Philadelphia.
“I thought it was a huge win,” Harper said. “We don’t want to get swept here, lose three straight. The Phillies are a great team. They’re going to be good all year long, and Atlanta as well. So, just got to keep playing ball and do our thing and see where we’re at.”