BOSTON - Bryce Harper came to the plate with one out in the ninth, after having sat around for much of the afternoon.
Not an ideal situation for a guy who has been an everyday player his entire life. What had the 19-year-old - who was getting the day off because of a tight back - been doing for the previous eight innings?
“Just blowing bubbles with my bubble gum,” Harper said. “I was just sitting there trying to stay in the game as much as I could, just in case I had to pinch hit against (Jon) Lester and whatnot. Just trying to stay loose and watch and see what the game was going to be like.”
“He came running out, I think, in the seventh inning,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I said, ‘Have you been swinging?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine.’ He made that point real clear. Just waited, and the spot came up.”
The spot called for Harper to face reliever Alfredo Aceves. Harper knew he was unlikely to see anything good when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went out to talk to Aceves before the at-bat, and he didn’t. After looking at five pitches, only one of which was in the zone, the rookie took a walk.
Two batters later, Roger Bernadina stepped to the plate, looking to atone for his botched safety squeeze bunt in the seventh. The Nats were expecting something offspeed from Aceves on a 2-2 pitch, so they put Harper in motion. Instead of getting the breaking ball, Bernadina saw a fastball belt-high.
“He threw me one up, and I reacted on it,” Bernadina said.
Bernadina ripped a ball down the line in right, and with Harper already on the move, the rookie knew what was happening as soon as the ball dropped in.
“I’m scoring,” Harper said. “Absolutely. I was thinking (on a ball) through the hole, probably going to third or getting to second at least, but something in the gap or down the line, you better score. Something off that wall, you better score. I knew it was maybe going to be a close play at the plate, and thankfully, it wasn’t.”
Right fielder Ryan Sweeney went into a slide to corral the ball down the line, and that was all third base coach Bo Porter needed to see. He was waving Harper home.
“I’m anticipating sending him the whole way,” Porter said. “Once (Sweeney) slid, left his feet, that was what locked in the decision.”
Harper’s speed made him the perfect guy to have on the basepaths in that moment. He took a wide turn around second, picked up Porter and got the go-ahead to make the turn for home.
When second baseman Dustin Pedroia was unable to get off a clean relay throw, Harper had plenty of time to slide in safely around Saltalamacchia. The Nationals led 4-3, and Tyler Clippard finished it off in the bottom of the ninth with another save.
That locked up the sweep, marking the first time the Red Sox had been swept in an interleague series of at least three games since 2002.
“It was picture perfect,” Johnson said. “Storybook perfect.”