Harper reaches elusive 100-RBI mark in Nats win (updated)

Mock it as an old-school milestone, one that doesn’t accurately reflect a player’s offensive performance. Just know this: Major leaguers still care about RBIs, and Bryce Harper knew well when he took the field tonight he needed one more to reach the century mark for the first time in his career.

“It’s an unbelievable milestone,” manager Davey Martinez said before the Nationals’ 7-3 victory over the Marlins on another waterlogged night on South Capitol Street. “Those guys that do it consistently like that, it’s incredible. Those guys, they don’t miss opportunities to drive in runs. Credit to him, he started off really slow. And for him to be where we’re at right now, that we’re even talking about it, is testament to what kind of player he is.”

Yes, it is. For all the handwringing over Harper entering the All-Star break, his end-of-season numbers still are going to look awfully good. With five games left on the schedule, he has 34 homers, 100 RBIs, 99 runs, 30 doubles, 126 walks and an .885 OPS.

And that RBI milestone does mean something to him. And not merely about how he alone has performed.

“It just goes to show how good the guys in front of me are,” Harper said. “Getting on base all the time and really grinding to produce runs and things like that. Just a testament to how good this team is and how good are table-setters are at the top.”

No, Harper’s overall numbers don’t compare to his MVP numbers in 2015. But that was an all-time season. This is merely a run-of-the-mill season for the soon-to-be free agent, who - make no mistake - is going to be paid handsomely by someone this winter.

Harper-100th-RBI-Congrats-White-Sidebar.jpg“It’s amazing,” teammate Anthony Rendon said. “His work’s finally paid off. It’s a big accomplishment for him, especially seeing him this year, how he went through his struggles. But he didn’t stay out of the cage, kept on with his work, kept on staying diligent about it. So his work paid off. I’m happy for him.”

Harper’s milestone RBI tonight didn’t come via a 450-foot blast into the second deck. Nor did it come via a double ripped to the gap. No, it came via a simple sacrifice fly to the opposite field, a much-needed tack-on run in the fourth inning of a game his team only led 2-1 at the time.

Harper did rip a double to the gap in the bottom of the first, helping set the stage for the Nationals to take that 2-1 lead. Rendon followed with his own double to left, bringing home Harper right behind Adam Eaton.

And the Nationals didn’t let up after Harper’s sac fly in the fourth. Rendon lofted Sandy Alcantara’s next pitch down the left field line, and though nobody in the park - batter included - expected it to clear the fence in fair territory, somehow it did. With his 23rd homer and 87th RBI of the season to go along with his career-high 42nd double earlier, Rendon continued his steady march toward yet another statistically impressive season.

“I thought it was a deep popup, so I wasn’t really running,” Rendon said of his 350-foot homer. “And I saw him kind of stop and keep looking, so I thought he lost it. That’s when I was kind of jogging. Kept going, and it’s going over the fence.”

Rendon barely had time to return to the dugout and try to figure out how that pitching wedge shot down the left field line turned into a home run when Juan Soto mashed Alcantara’s very next pitch deep to left-center for a no-doubt homer. In the span of three pitches, the Nationals scored four runs and extended a 2-1 lead into a 6-1 lead.

By that point, Stephen Strasburg was no longer in the game, his bizarre outing having lasted only four innings not so much because of ineffectiveness but a ridiculously high pitch count.

Strasburg allowed only one run on three hits, but he issued four walks, hit another batter and could not put away enough of Miami’s batters, who kept fouling off two-strike offerings to extend at-bats. And so when he returned to the dugout after the top of the fourth, his pitch count already was a staggering 100, leaving Martinez no choice but to pull his starter.

“It was just a challenge to get into a rhythm tonight,” Strasburg said. “But I looked at the video; I didn’t really execute as bad as I thought I did. It was just some long at-bats and some inconsistency there with other hitters. Just giving up too many free bases. You’re going to have those games.”

The Nationals bullpen, which has been subjected to some heavy workloads this month, was asked to do it again. But the quartet of Justin Miller, Matt Grace, Greg Holland and Sean Doolittle finished this game off with little trouble, and in the process made sure Harper’s first 100th RBI mattered in a Nats win.

“You think about it, for me a lot of things have to happen,” Martinez said. “He started off slow. To do that the way he started off, it’s only testament to how good he really is.”

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