With his mom and dad in attendance along with 45,272 others, Bryce Harper put on a show in the Nationals’ regular season opener.
Harper crushed two home runs in his first two at-bats of the season, scored the Nationals’ only two runs of the day and started a dramatic double play in the seventh inning that brought an end to a would-be Marlins rally and preserved a two-run lead.
Talk about an impressive start to a season in which some are projecting Harper as one of the favorites for the National League MVP award at just 20.
“Being able to share that experience with my family and this organization, it was a pretty special moment,” Harper said. “If I was 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, it wouldn’t have mattered to me. Just going out there having some fun on opening day for the first time, being around the fans again, playing in this city, it was a lot of fun. Thankfully we got the W and got that one under the belt.”
Harper got the action started early, waiting just two pitches into his first at-bat of the year before launching a home run out into the right field bleachers in the bottom of the first inning. That homer came on a 1-0 curveball from Ricky Nolasco.
The second Harper homer came in the fourth inning. After laying off a 2-2 splitter, an incredibly tough take, Harper smoked another offspeed pitch - a 3-2 slider that caught too much of the plate.
“The first one was very cool,” Harper said. “I think being able to share that with these fans and my family and this organization, this team, was a great moment, great experience. The second one I didn’t really take full advantage of, you could say. It was over and I’m done. I think the first one really caught me. I was really excited about that one.”
Nolasco had given the Nationals problems last season, twice throwing complete-game shutouts against them, but Harper had been one of the few to fare well against the Marlins righty, hitting .286 off him in 15 at-bats. Going into today’s game, Harper opted not to watch tape of Nolasco, instead going in without any personal advance scouting.
“I didn’t even want to look at anything with him because he’s so good out there,” Harper said. “He does so many things with offspeed, curveball, split. He’s a great pitcher out there. He mixes speeds very well and you just try to get something you can handle. I got two pitches I could take advantage of.
“I just try to react to something that I can hit. Nolasco’s a great pitcher. He carved us up all last year. He carved me up. Being able to get two knocks on him is good for me. I think I saw him pretty well today. I don’t know if you’re going to do that every time against him.”
As I mentioned in my previous entry, Harper stung Davey Johnson’s hand with a forceful high five following his first home run. Apparently, Harper’s skipper wasn’t the only one who got caught by the overly energetic left fielder.
“Yeah, Zim (Ryan Zimmerman) told me the same thing,” Harper said. “Zim was like ‘Calm down, it’s OK. You don’t have to hit my hand so hard.’ I think on that first one, just the emotions came out. I was very excited about it. The second one was more of, that was pretty cool, but the first one I liked more.”
After the second home run, Harper returned to the dugout, and by the time he made his way through the gauntlet of teammates waiting to congratulate him, the fans were still standing. They wanted a curtain call, and unsure of what to do, Harper turned to infielder Chad Tracy and asked for some advice.
“I looked at Tracy and I was like, ‘Should I do it, or no?’ ” Harper said. “And he said, ‘Get up there.’ I try to look at everybody and ask, ‘Should I do this, or no?’ but being able to go up there and acknowledge the crowd and being able to have some fun with them was a pretty special moment. Chad told me, ‘Get up there, who cares? Get up there.’ “
Harper’s rocket of a throw home in the seventh inning started an inning-ending double play, but he admitted that he erred by overthrowing the cutoff man on that play. Had Placido Polanco not stopped midway between first and second, he probably would have gotten into scoring position safely, putting the tying run just 180 feet away.
Still, asked whether he thinks he should have hit the cutoff man on that play, Harper’s confident side sneaked out.
“Nah,” Harper said. “I’m going to try to throw everybody out.”
He might not always play things by the book, but he’s plenty fun to watch.