Bryce Harper rebounds from rough night by doing Bryce Harper things
For the second day in a row, Bryce Harper was a difference-maker in a game between the Nationals and Giants at AT&T Park. This time, he was on the right side of the ledger, scoring both Washington runs via a pair of extra-base hits in their 2-1, 10-inning victory, and making a crucial defensive play in the late innings to boot.
Harper's sixth-inning solo homer off Madison Bumgarner provided the game's first run. Although Gio Gonzalez and Drew Storen couldn't make that hold up, allowing the Giants to tie the score in the eighth inning on a pair of walks and a Buster Posey single, Harper's sliding catch of Hunter Pence's line drive prevented Marco Scutaro from scoring the go-ahead run from second base:
After both teams failed to score in the ninth, Harper smacked a one-out double off Jeremy Affeldt in the 10th, and came around to score what proved to be the winning run on Ian Desmond's single. Rafael Soriano, who blew Tuesday night's save in part due to Harper's misplay in right field, worked a 1-2-3 inning for the save.
Prior to the game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson spoke to Soriano about his criticism of Harper's positioning on Gregor Blanco's decisive drive. Harper and Soriano then spoke for several minutes behind closed doors, and afterward, the closer took back some of what he said in the wake of Tuesday night's defeat. He told the Washington Post's James Wagner that his comments to USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz regarding Harper's positioning were meant to be off the record:
"I tried to do my job and I didn’t do it," Soriano said in Spanish. "(The play) wasn’t an error. He was in the position and I threw the pitch I shouldn’t have. And that’s what happened. And after we finished talking, I made the mistake of saying that to [the reporter]. And he put it in there with what I said."
“I understand that he’s been hurt and it’s hard and he’s young,” Soriano said. “He’s just been playing. I’ll try next time to be better and have a better game.”
As for Wednesday's action, the home run was Harper's 12th of the year, tying him with the Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt for second in the league behind Justin Upton. The 20-year-old is now more than halfway to last year's total of 22, and with his two extra-base hits, he retook the league lead with a .612 slugging percentage.
Both hits came against lefties, and the homer was hit to left field. Of Harper's 34 major-league homers, only eight have come against southpaws, and only one of those eight went to the opposite field, his May 26, 2012 homer against Atlanta's Jonny Venters. Not surprisingly for a young lefty power hitter, Harper has struggled against same-side pitching. Last year, Harper hit .240/.300/.415 with six homers against lefties, with an OPS 154 points lower than against righties. He came into Wednesday's game just 5-for-37 with two extra-base hits against lefties; his 2-for-5 day against Bumgarner, Jose Mijares and Affeldt lifted his line against southpaws to .167/.255/.357. The win snapped the Nationals' losing streak at four games and ended their 10-game West Coast road trip with a 4-6 record. Record aside, it was a costly trip; not only did Harper collide with the right-field wall in Dodger Stadium and suffer injuries that kept him out of the lineup for four games, but Wilson Ramos strained a hamstring and Ryan Mattheus punched a locker in frustration and fractured his hand; both went on the 15-day disabled list.