After Harper's latest: "Nobody can say he ain't worth the money"

In explaining how and why the Nationals decided to agree to terms now with Bryce Harper on a 2018 contract, some seven months before that sort of thing would normally be done, Mike Rizzo offered up a fairly simple rationale.

"He's a unique player," the general manager said, "with a unique talent set that is our own."

There's only one Bryce Harper, and so why wouldn't the Nationals be willing to secure him now for 2018 for $21.625 million? Especially when he keeps delivering iconic moments like he did tonight, when his two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth carried the Nats to a 6-4 victory over the Phillies.

harper-bat-flip-pink-walk-off.jpgWho wouldn't want to reward a 24-year-old who already owns an MVP trophy, a Rookie of the Year trophy and four All-Star Game selections, and is batting .368 with 11 homers, 31 RBI and a 1.219 OPS with a record-setting salary for a player who has yet to reach free agency?

"Nobody can say he ain't worth the money," manager Dusty Baker said.

No, they can't. Ryan Zimmerman may have better stats at the moment. But make no mistake: Bryce Harper is The Man right now.

Just as Zimmerman did through the first half of his career, Harper is embracing the big moment as his moment. It's one thing to put up big numbers in any old situation. Harper is doing it when it really matters, having now belted five career walk-off homers, two of them this season.

In plate appearances defined as "Late and Close" - seventh inning or later, his team tied, ahead by one or with the tying run at least on deck - Harper so far this season is batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .565 on-base percentage, .882 slugging percentage, four extra-base hits and 1.447 OPS.

"He's getting more and more comfortable," Baker said of Harper's approach in those potential game-winning situations. "He wants to be the ... you have to want to be the man in that situation. You have to want to be up there in that situation."

Harper most definitely wants to be up there.

"Just lock it in. It's a lot of fun," he said. "To be able to go out there and compete and try to do the things you can to help your team win in an environment like that ... big moments, big spots, big situations, you always want to do that and live for that. I was having fun trying to do that tonight."

Harper's blast tonight capped an impressive rally by the Nationals, who trailed 4-0 in the fifth but quickly tied the game with a four-spot off Phillies starter Nick Pivetta. After both teams swapped zeroes the rest of the evening, the Nats broke through in the bottom of the ninth.

Adam Lind led off with a single, in the process improving to 7-for-12 as a pinch-hitter this season. Trea Turner and Chris Heisey failed to advance the runner, but that was no matter because Harper still walked up to the plate with a chance to take care of business himself.

Harper fouled off Edubray Ramos' first-pitch fastball, which was up at the letters. He didn't miss Ramos' next fastball, which was thigh-high and over the plate. Harper sent the ball soaring to center field and over the fence, flipping his bat and waltzing around the bases as what remained of a crowd of 31,473 roared with delight.

"Just trying to be like John Wall, walk them off a little bit," Harper said, referencing Friday night's game-winning shot by the Wizards star.

The way things have gone and are going right now, more than a few guys out there are going to be trying to be like Bryce Harper.

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