Bryce Harper's 100th career homer was as grand as they come.
Harper launched his first major league grand slam this afternoon, blasting a 1-0 fastball from Julio Teheran in the bottom of the third off the faÃ§ade of the second deck in right-center at Nationals Park.
That blast gave the Nationals a 4-1 lead over the Braves, a worthy development in its own right. That it also happened to bring Harper to the century mark for his career only sweetened the moment.
The crowd saluted Harper with a sustained "MVP! MVP!" chant and coaxed him out of the dugout for a curtain call, with Ryan Zimmerman stepping out of the batter's box to stall for time and allow the moment to develop.
At 23 years, 181 days old, Harper is the eighth-youngest player in MLB history to reach the 100-homer mark. He achieved that milestone, though, in his 518th career game, faster than all but three players on that list (Eddie Mathews, Tony Conigliaro, Alex Rodriguez).
Harper couldn't have drawn up a more favorable situation in which to do it. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, he stepped in to face Teheran, against whom he had already homered four times in his career (including last week on opening day at Turner Field).
Teheran tried to sneak a 1-0 fastball past him, but Harper crushed the 91 mph offering, leaving no doubt where it was headed to anybody in the ballpark. Wilson Ramos followed the next inning with a solo homer over the left field bullpen, extending the Nationals' lead to 5-1 and offering some significant run support to Stephen Strasburg.
Pitching for the first time in eight days thanks to rainouts, scheduled off-days and an illness that prevented him from starting as planned Wednesday night, Strasburg put the Braves' leadoff man on base in each of his first three innings (two via walks, one via single). He managed to pitch around the first two. He couldn't do so the third time.
Nick Markakis' two-out, two-strike single through the left side of the infield brought Jace Peterson home with the afternoon's first run.
That RBI single came off a 96-mph fastball from Strasburg, but he already has thrown several pitches in this game that registered on the Nationals Park scoreboard as 88 mph sliders. Strasburg has been coy since spring training when asked out the pitch, trying to claim he hasn't added anything new to his repertoire.
But the secret's out there for all to see now. Even the Nationals can't hide it anymore. Strasburg is throwing a new pitch.
Update: Strasburg has found his groove, retiring seven straight to get through the fifth inning on 69 pitches (46 strikes).
The right-hander has four strikeouts so far, including a curveball that froze Jace Peterson in the top of the fifth.
Teheran, meanwhile, hasn't surrendered anything since Ramos' homer with one out in the fourth, retiring five straight and keeping this a 5-1 lead for the Nationals as they move to the sixth.
Update II: Make it 6-1 Nats after seven. Strasburg is on cruise control, having retired 13 of the last 14 batters he has faced. And the 14th batter reached on an infield single off Danny Espinosa's glove. He's at a very manageable 87 pitches, so he'll head back to the mound for the top of the eighth.
The Nationals gave Strasburg some extra cushion with back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the sixth via Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos, who hustled his way into second base on a ball hit to shallow left-center. Yes, a hustle double by Ramos.
Ramos, by the way, is 7 for his last 10. Not bad at all, and providing some much needed depth to this Nats lineup.
Update III: Ballgame. Nats win 6-2. They improve to 7-1, matching the record for the best eight-game start in both franchise and D.C. baseball history.
They're also 6-0 against the Braves this season, having won 14 consecutive home games against them over the last two seasons. Oh, and Atlanta is 0-9 in 2016. Yikes.
Stephen Strasburg improves to 2-0 thanks to 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball. For the first time, the Nats won a game without a save opportunity. And Bryce Harper had kind of a big blast to pace the lineup in this one.