Seizing the moment once again, Harper joins the century club

Bryce Harper had all week to hit the 100th home run of his career. He could've done it Sunday against the Marlins against a pitcher he has owned (Tom Koehler). He could've done it Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday nights against the Braves, perhaps lofting a solo shot into the bleachers. He could've done it in any number of mundane ways.

But that, of course, isn't the way Harper does these things. He picks just the right moment and adds just enough extra drama to the situation to make you take a mental snapshot of the scene in vivid detail, ready to pull out of your memory bank some time down the road.

Harper-100th-HR-Swing-Sidebar.jpgIt wasn't enough for Harper's 100th to come in the bottom of the third this afternoon. It had to be a grand slam, the first of his career. It had to come on his mother's birthday. And it had to come on a 425-foot laser that struck the ribbon board hanging from the façade of the second deck in right-center field at Nationals Park, knocking out a section of the LED display.

Oh, and it also had to account in the end for the margin of the Nationals' 6-2 victory over the Braves.

Did you expect anything less from Harper?

"You look at every sport. Guys that are considered the great ones - Michael Jordan, (Wayne) Gretzky, Jim Brown, Joe Montana - they have a flair for the dramatic," manager Dusty Baker said. "And I told him when he hit that home run: 'Man, you've got a flair for the dramatic. You hit a grand slam on your 100th career home run.' How many people have done that?"

Well, actually more people than you'd think, including one (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) who did it as recently as Wednesday for the Tigers. But that's not important right now.

What is important is that Harper isn't just doing jaw-dropping things on a regular basis. It's that he's consistently doing them in particularly big moments, helping propel his team to a 7-1 start to a season full of unlimited potential.

Harper has hit three homers in eight games so far in 2016. The first came on opening day, in his first at-bat of the season. His second came in last week's home opener. And his third came with the bases loaded and his team down a run this afternoon.

Sprinkled in between all that was a game-winning double Tuesday night in the eighth inning of what had been a scoreless pitchers' duel.

Talk about making them count.

"I was just happy to get us all on the board, and I was able to get a hit right there," Harper said of today's big blast. "I was very fortunate to do that and win the ballgame."

Harper had been sitting on 99 career homers a full seven days when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the third today against Teheran. He nearly didn't get the opportunity.

Moments earlier, Anthony Rendon sent a two-out single up the middle, leaving the crowd of 21,144 wondering if Stephen Strasburg would try to score from second. Third base coach Bob Henley, though, threw up the stop sign, so Strasburg (battling flu-like symptoms) slammed on the brakes. The crowd murmured, perhaps questioning the seemingly conservative decision.

"I know a lot of people were hooting because Bobby Henley didn't send Stras from second," Baker said. "But he was sick. We tried to conserve his energy. Plus, we had Harp up next. So I gotta commend Bobby Henley. That was heads-up baseball."

Sure enough, the hold of Strasburg left the bases loaded for Harper, who dug in against Teheran (who he had previously homered off of four times, including last week at Turner Field). He took ball one, then took a mighty swing at Teheran's 1-0 fastball down in the zone.

"I was trying to get a hit," Harper insisted. "A homer wasn't in my mind at all. If it is in your mind, you're probably gonna come off the ball a little bit. I was just trying to stay within myself and stay within the approach that gets me going. I'm satisfied with the result today."

Well, yeah. Grand slams typically aren't unsatisfying.

Fired up in the moment, Harper rounded first but then stopped for a moment and retouched the bag, thinking perhaps he had missed it on the first try.

"I didn't want to get called out," he said. "I hit it with the back end of my heel, but you never know with replay. I just wanted to make sure, and get past it and get home."

Once he crossed the plate, Harper retreated to the dugout where a swarm of joyous teammates and coaches awaited. The crowd roared with approval, too, starting up an "MVP! MVP!" chant that continued until Harper ducked back up a couple of steps and raised his arm to acknowledge the curtain call.

"I love these fans," he said. "I love this organization. It's a thrill to be able to do it in front of the home crowd, and I'm glad I was able to do it here."

Inside his locker after the game, the ball already sat encased in plastic, marked with the date and the particular achievement. It was given back to Harper by a young girl in the bleachers who wound up with the ball after it caromed off the ribbon board, in exchange for an autographed bat and a once-in-a-lifetime photo.

Harper thus became the eighth-youngest player in major league history to hit his 100th homer. Only three others on that list (Eddie Mathews, Tony Conigliaro and Alex Rodriguez) reached the milestone in fewer than the 518 big league games it took Harper to join the club.

Given the manner in which he did this, and the manner in which he continue to rise to the occasion, you get the sense there are plenty more of these on the docket.

"I think if you're worried about 100, then you're not going to get higher than that," Harper said. "Not to take it for granted. I'm definitely excited. But I'm looking for many more to come."

Friday morning Q&A from D.C.
Harper's first grand slam is 100th career homer (N...

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