Bryce Harper ends remarkable “MVP-caliber” season

FLUSHING, N.Y. - Bryce Harper stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning late this afternoon and the Nationals trailing 1-0. Harper, who couldn’t possibly end his historic season without a hit, slapped a sharp grounder off Mets closer Jeurys Familia down the left field line.

As Mets left fielder Michael Conforto chased the ball, Harper charged for second base, narrowly sliding in safely to keep the Nats alive for a few more moments.

“Definitely excited to get that last knock against Familia because I didn’t want to make the last out in Citi Field,” Harper said grinning.

After missing over 100 games the past two seasons with various freak injuries, Harper showed up in spring training hinting at a breakout season if he avoided the disabled list.

“Staying healthy puts good numbers up,” Harper said. “If you stay healthy and try to do the things you can to win ballgames, doing things you can to help your team, that’s all that matters.”

Harper came out of the gates batting .286 with five homers in the first month of the season. But in May, the 22-year-old’s year exploded with a spectacular home run binge. He slashed .360/.495/.884 with 13 longballs and 28 RBIs. The show-stopping run included a three-homer game, two-homer game and a walk-off bomb in three straight days.

Harper’s .330 season batting average was 58 points higher than his career mark. On the final day, he fell short of a National League batting title as Miami’s Dee Gordon finished at .333.

Bryce Harper curtain call.jpg“I probably could have took the last two weeks off and hit .340 and do what I did,” Harper said. “But Dee Gordon is such a great hitter. He had over 200 hits and I tip my cap to him. He’s done such a great job all year. I had to be in there today. I wanted to be in there for my team. I wanted to play my last day with (Ian Desmond), if that was the way it was going to be. These fans and this organization expect me to go out and play. It’s October and I want to play in October.

“If I was at .328 or .325 in my last AB, I was gonna still do it. I want to stay in there. I think the baseball gods got me that knock down the third base line and got up to .330. So .330, 42 (homers) and 99 (RBIs) is pretty good.

Harper’s 42 homers tied Colorado’s Nolan Arenado for most in the NL. The young slugger’s 99 RBIs were good for fifth in the league, well behind Arenado’s 130. But for most of the season, Harper played without any consistent offensive threats surrounding him in the lineup. It makes you wonder what he could’ve produced with everyday pop in the batting order.

“There’s a lot of things that stick out,” said veteran Jayson Werth, who batted cleanup down the stretch. “Hitting behind him, though, the last couple weeks or whatever it’s been, just to see him hit from the on-deck circle has been pretty special. The takes, the at-bats, the hard-hit balls, the homers, just the way he goes about the game, his at-bats, the tempo of the at-bat, kind of the little things that stick out with the way he goes about it. It’s been awesome. He’s had an unbelievable year, a big year. It’s been fun to watch.”

Harper ended up setting a franchise record by walking 124 times, the second highest mark in the NL. His 118 runs scored were the most in the league. And Harper led the majors in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649), OPS (1.109) and WAR (10.1).

In fact, Harper’s 1.109 OPS is the second all-time best mark for a 22-year-old behind the legendary Ted Williams (1.287) and in front of Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio (1.085) and Jimmie Foxx (1.066), according to NBCSports.com.

“I went out there and grinded out every single day for my team and my fans. That’s what I wanted to do,” Harper said. “The Nationals gave me an opportunity to play this game and give it my all every single day. I’m very lucky to be part of a great team and do everything I could and do what I could every single day. I played 150 games. That was my goal all year long. I’m happy with what I produced and what I did.”

Harper is the overwhelming favorite to take home his first NL Most Valuable Player Award when it’s announced in six weeks.

“It was awesome,” Werth said. “I’m really proud of him. He had a great season. MVP-caliber season. You don’t see those too often.”

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