You can certainly argue that Harper’s play on that fly ball was merely one of many factors that led to the Nats blowing Tuesday night’s game, but there’s no arguing that Harper carried the Nats to a massive victory yesterday with his play on both sides of the ball.
Harper is lauded by scouts, coaches and teammates for his raw ability, and for good reason. The 20-year-old outfielder is incredibly skilled at an incredibly young age.
But a part of what makes Harper so special this early in his career is that when he does happen to make a mistake, when he does give us that rare glimpse that he actually is human, he always seems to make the necessary adjustment and follow the mistake with a big play of some kind.
Yesterday, Harper provided the bulk of the Nats’ offense, smoking an opposite-field homer to left in the sixth inning that gave the Nats a 1-0 lead and then doubling and providing the game-winning run in the 10th.
His defensive effort in yesterday’s game was just as impressive, and could go a long way to helping Harper clear a big mental hurdle.
Two nights ago, Harper acknowledged that his collision with the Dodger Stadium wall affected him when he pursued Blanco’s fly ball to deep right-center. He had banged himself up good in Los Angeles, forcing him to miss three games and causing his body a lot of hurt.
It was only natural for Harper to shy away from the next possible battle with an outfield wall, and that’s what happened Tuesday night when he made a premature leap and didn’t give a full attempt at a ball that was a good 10 feet short of the wall.
Yesterday, however, just a half-inning after his go-ahead home run in the top of the sixth, Harper played a tricky fly ball - one that was very similar to the one that Blanco hit - perfectly. He moved back onto the track on Hunter Pence’s deep fly to the gap, realized he had a little room, shifted a few steps toward center and made the grab just a couple feet short of the wall.
With that unforgiving brick wall at AT&T Park bearing down on him, Harper trusted his feet, counted his steps on the warning track and made a big play. This doesn’t mean he won’t think about that Los Angeles collision next time he follows a ball onto the track, but it means he’s willing to put his nose in and give it his best shot.
He followed that play up with a sliding catch on a tricky Pence liner in the bottom of the eighth, a grab that likely prevented the go-ahead run from scoring but caused Harper to bang up his sore left knee.
He was hurting, but he wasn’t stopping. Harper then smoked a one-out double down the right field line in the 10th, and two batters later came barreling around third to score the eventual game-winning run on Ian Desmond’s RBI single to right.
While the seemingly endless hype and attention surrounding Harper might lead many of us to believe that he can do no wrong on a baseball field, that’s simply not true. He is human. He is just 20 and is in his first full season in the major leagues. Mistakes, both mental and physical, will happen.
But what we’ve seen already is that Harper possesses the mental fortitude to bounce back from those mistakes, and bounce back quickly. Over the last two days, we’ve gotten the perfect example of that fact, and while Harper might have contributed to Tuesday night’s loss, he played an even larger part in yesterday’s win, a win that snapped a four-game slide and might help get the Nats back on track.