One has been hitting big home runs in front of big crowds seemingly from the moment he reached the big leagues, especially on opening day. The other, despite 186 career home runs to his name, had never before taken a curtain call.
Bryce Harper and Adam Lind don’t share a whole lot in common, either in baseball pedigree or off-field personality, but they will forever share the two biggest moments on this opening day, the pair of late home runs that propelled the Nationals to a 4-2 victory over the Marlins.
“People that have played with me before know that home runs kind of get me going a little bit,” Lind said afterward. “In that situation, opening day, you can’t really beat it.”
This was an entirely new experience for Lind, a veteran of 11 major league seasons but every one of those with a club that failed to make the playoffs. He also has spent the vast majority of his career getting three or four at-bats per night as a starting first baseman, designated hitter or left fielder.
The Nationals scooped Lind up on the eve of spring training, though, because they needed a more proven backup first baseman for Ryan Zimmerman, not to mention a better left-handed bat off the bench. Little did they know their modest $1.5 million investment would begin to pay off right out of the chute like this.
Summoned off the bench by Dusty Baker with two outs, a man on first and the Nationals trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Lind proceeded to take two balls from Marlins reliever David Phelps before hammering a subsequent fastball to deep right-center. The sellout crowd of 42,744 rose with anticipation as the ball carried over Christian Yelich’s head and landed safely in the bleachers, some 415 feet from the plate.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Lind said. “You know, you wish you could hold onto it for a lifetime, but it goes by and you don’t even realize what happened.”
The 33-year-old will have to go back and watch the video, but it will include an exclamation of “Woo!” as he rounded first base, a bunch of high-fives and back slaps as he crossed the plate and returned to the dugout and then the sustained roar from the crowd until he acquiesced to Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy’s instructions to “Get up there!” He climbed the steps, turned to face the crowd and raised his right arm high in accepting the first curtain call of his career.
“Murph was telling me what to do,” he said. “It’s the first one I’ve ever had. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
Really, that was your first-ever curtain call?
“Yeah, I don’t think they really happen that much,” he said. “Not in my career.”
This may have been foreign territory for Lind, but it was old hat for Harper, who has taken his share of curtain calls over the year and rose to the occasion once again this afternoon.
One inning before Lind gave the Nationals the lead, Harper stood at the plate with his team trailing 2-0, having gone a miserable 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. They needed a boost, and who better to provide it than the young man who owns opening day?
Harper had been responsible for two of those failed scoring opportunities earlier, striking out with two men on and nobody out in the bottom of the first, then sending a fly ball to left with two out and a man on second base in the bottom of the third, helping bail out Marlins starter Edinson Volquez.
“Just trying to make some stuff happen,” Harper said. “We had opportunities in the first five innings to really get stuff going and get it done. Volquez threw the ball pretty well. He was effectively wild and did his certain things that he needed to do to shut down us. And we finally put some runs up on the board.”
Yes, they did. With Volquez pulled after five scoreless innings, Harper got a chance to do damage against Phelps in the bottom of the sixth. He proceeded to launch a 2-2 fastball to right, the ball sailing 419 feet before falling into a sea of humanity.
The crowd roared as Harper rounded the bases in an act that has become tradition around here this time of year. Even if not everybody in uniform realizes it.
“I remember him hitting one other one,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know how many. It was probably more than that.”
Informed that Harper has now hit five opening day home runs in five career opening day games played - two in 2013, one a piece in 2015, 2016 and 2017 - Zimmerman replied: “I guess that answers your question. I don’t pay attention to much.”
Harper’s latest opening day blast was merely a continuation of his torrid spring, in which he clubbed a Grapefruit League-leading eight homers.
“He was a guy that was locked in first in spring training,” Baker said. “I had to slow him down a little bit so he wouldn’t get stale. People were wondering, should he save some? And I said: ‘No man, you have to perfect that.’ Just let him keep on coming.”
There was no curtain call for Harper today. That honor was reserved for the guy who followed his homer with an even bigger one a few minutes later.
Based on what Lind has seen in his limited time with the Nationals, he won’t be surprised if a wide range of others on this club get a chance to be recognized as well before this season is complete.
“It’s good,” he said of his impressions of his new team. “I know the guys get along really well. I think there’s a lot of team chemistry. And the most important part, there’s a lot of really good players. And it showed today.”