The Nationals have started the season more slowly than expected, but one player who hasn't been to blame is outfielder Bryce Harper. Already the team leader in home runs and several other offensive categories coming into Wednesday’s game against the Marlins, Harper became the youngest player to homer three times in one game since 1969, at 22 years and 202 days. His hat trick powered Washington past Miami, 7–5.
Harper went deep in his first three plate appearances, all of them off Marlins starter Tom Koehler. With his team down 2–0, he led off the second inning by tagging a 92 mph fastball on the outside corner of the plate and sending it into the Nationals' bullpen in left-centerfield. MLB Advanced Media’s StatCast estimated the shot at 393 feet:
The Nationals tied the game at 2–2 in the third via back-to-back doubles by Denard Span and Ian Desmond followed by a Yunel Escobar sacrifice fly. Harper then untied it by demolishing a slider that Koehler hung over the plate. The two-run shot into the upper deck in right-center was estimated at 442 feet by StatCast:
Harper reached the upper deck in right-center again with a solo homer in the fifth inning—his longest of the day at 445 feet, according to StatCast—that extended the lead to 5–2:
Harper came to bat in the seventh with a chance to become the youngest player to hit four homers in a game, supplanting the Indians’ Pat Seerey (25 years and 123 days on July 18, 1948). Marlins reliever Sam Dyson, however, was able to get Harper to ground out to second, though he did plate a run that extended Washington's lead to 7–2. Miami briefly made it interesting when Giancarlo Stanton's three-run homer chased Nationals starter Max Scherzer in the eighth inning and trimmed the score to 7–5, but closer Drew Storen, after allowing the first two Marlins to reach base in the ninth, closed the door for the win.
Harper is now the second player this year to hit three homers in a game, joining the Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez, who did so on April 8 against the Padres. Harper is also the fourth National to hit three in a game, after Alfonso Soriano (April 21, 2006 against the Braves), Adam Dunn (July 7, 2010 against the Padres) and Ryan Zimmerman (May 29, 2013 against the Orioles). Four Expos did so a total of six times before the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington, with Larry Parrish completing the hat trick three times. Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson former All-Star Tim Wallach each did it once.
Wednesday's power outburst made Harper the 10th-youngest player to homer three times in a game. Here are the nine who were younger, five of whom are in the Hall of Fame:
*second game of doubleheader
The last time a player younger than Harper homered three times in one game was nearly 46 years ago, when Joe Lahoud did so for the Red Sox against the Twins. The ranks of the youngsters also include Pat Seerey, an otherwise obscure outfielder whose major league career lasted all of seven years (1943–49 with the Indians and White Sox), four of which saw him lead the league in strikeouts. After his aforementioned four-homer day against the Philadelphia A’s, he played in just 59 more games, homering eight more times.
Harper's homers were his sixth, seventh and eighth of the season, lifting him to third in the league. After that outburst, which added 115 points of OPS to his season line, he's now batting .265/.416/.561 and ranks ninth in the league in slugging percentage, fifth in RBIs (20) and first in walks (26). The last of those figures is 12 shy of the total from his relatively disappointing and injury-scarred 2014 season, which he's shown every sign of putting behind him. Not too shabby for a player who has yet to face a pitcher younger than him and who came into the year as the youngest active player in the NL—though he has since been supplanted by call-ups Sam Tuivailala (Cardinals; 22 years, 199 days), Addison Russell (Cubs; 21 years, 103 days) and Dilson Herrera (Mets; 21 years, 64 days).
More importantly, it was Washington's seventh win in its past nine games as it continues to climb out of the dreadful 7-13 hole it dug to start the season. Harper hadn't done much in that resurgence, batting .207 over the last eight games without a home run entering Wednesday, but that all changed against Miami. If the Nats are to keep climbing, Harper is sure to be a big reason why.