ATLANTA - Yesterday’s 13-inning walk-off win over the Mets was significant for the Nationals as a whole.
It probably was even more significant for Bryce Harper individually.
The victory gave the Nationals a 4 1/2 game lead in the National League East, their largest advantage in the division since September 24, 2012. And now they head into their big three-game set with the Braves riding a wave of momentum.
But for Harper, his opposite-field, walk-off homer might’ve just been the spark that he needed to lift himself out of his post-disabled list slump, the moment that got his swing and his swagger back on track.
Some players - Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche among them - talk about how one swing can sometimes get them going after a difficult stretch. Harper said he felt his swing had been coming around recently, that he’d been getting closer. And when he connected on a 1-0 fastball from Carlos Torres and sent it over the left field wall yesterday, Harper had just his second extra-base hit in his last 18 games played.
Can that swing, that result, lock Harper in?
“In my mind I’m hoping so,” Harper said. “Definitely. But of course, you know this game. It’s nice to be able to start over every day. Cause you go 0-for-4 one day, 4-for-4 the next day, go on a streak where you’re hitting .320 and you go on a week where you’re hitting .120. That’s just part of the game.
“Hopefully we can keep winning ballgames and stay in first place. We got a great team and it’s a lot of fun being in here right now.”
Beyond Harper feeling like he’s back on track with his swing from a physical or a mechanical standpoint, there’s also the issue of his confidence, his swagger.
Baseball is such a mental game, with so much of a player’s success in the batter’s box dependent on his ability to stay in the right frame of mind. Harper had been visibly frustrated at times over the last few weeks, slamming bats and helmets and talking to himself after at-bats that didn’t go his way.
In the 13th inning yesterday, as he rounded the bases and then got pummeled by his teammates at home plate, Harper rebuilt that confidence a bit. He got to experience a joyous moment, lifting his team to an extra-inning win at home in a big August contest.
Those moments are valuable to any athlete, but especially for Harper, who puts so much pressure on himself to succeed and live up to his ability so that he can help his team.
Now Harper and the Nats roll into Atlanta feeling good about themselves, while the Braves enter this series with an eight-game losing streak on their backs.
Yesterday might have gotten Harper back on track, and he’s capable of carrying an offense when he gets hot. And beyond that, it helped give the Nats an extra cushion going into Turner Field, where they have a chance to really grab control of the NL East.