Bryce Harper stepped up to the plate at Nationals Park for the first time in a while, got a loud ovation from the crowd, looked at a ball out of the zone and then slugged the second pitch he saw for a solo homer.
He sprinted around the bases, was greeted by smiles and high fives in the Nationals’ dugout and then came out to the top step for a curtain call.
Harper’s first at-bat off the disabled list, one that came in the bottom of the first inning in tonight’s 10-5 win over the Brewers, was eerily similar to his first at-bat of the 2013 season back on April 1. That at-bat also resulted in a homer on a 1-0 pitch, and also ended with Harper being called out for a curtain call.
“Felt like I was back at opening day,” Harper said after today’s game. “It felt really good. (Yovani) Gallardo’s a great pitcher and I was just trying to get something I could drive. Got a pitch I could handle a little bit and put it where I wanted to.”
Harper was asked if he remembered anything specific that was said in the dugout after his homer.
“I think (Jayson) Werth was screaming as always,” Harper said. “That’s just him.”
Watch the video of Harper’s homer, and you can see that Werth did, indeed, do some screaming. So did Harper.
“He’s an exciting player,” Werth said. “Typical Bryce, right there. He’s all about the drama, so he didn’t disappoint us, I guess. That was good.”
Watching Harper’s effort in the first inning tonight reminded Denard Span of a similar performance by his former teammate in Minnesota, Joe Mauer, who Span says also had a little bit of a flair for the dramatic.
“He missed the first month of the season and first at-bat back, homer to the opposite field, same exact thing, right over the left field wall,” Span said. “Just impressive to see him come back and give the fans what they want.”
Harper ended up going 1-for-4 with a walk tonight. He showed off his speed busting it down the first base line to beat out a potential double play ball and also unleashed his arm when firing a throw to second base in the third inning to keep Norichika Aoki from looking for extra bases.
While it was his first game back in a Nationals uniform in 36 days, Harper insisted that he didn’t feel different before tonight’s game than any other.
“Nothing at all,” Harper said. “Just wanted to get back out there, but not anxious at all. I’m excited as always. I’m excited to play this game every single day. So it was great to get back out there.
“I felt comfortable the first day I went to A-ball (on a rehab assignment). Everything felt good. I don’t think I lost anything. Maybe a little impatient my next couple ABs, but that’s what happened.”
It’d be easy to say that Harper jumpstarted the Nationals’ offense, but that would be to ignore the 13-run showing yesterday and the full-team contributions today.
“They had a great game yesterday” Harper said. “They fed off each other the past week. I think just getting me back in there with this lineup is something special.”