Did Bryce Harper just wipe out three months of disappointment with one night of show-stopping elation?
How could any ownership watch what transpired here at Nationals Park on Monday night and not want some of that for its franchise?
Harper didn’t just win the Home Run Derby in front of his home crowd. He did so with drama and flair, with fun and enough emotion to fill a decade’s worth of Mets baseball.
Just like that, after an underwhelming first half that had us wondering how much he had hurt his free-agency value this winter, Harper’s stock is up again.
“I’m very serious on the field. I am,” Harper said, in a post-Derby news conference. “I enjoy the game, and I want to win every single game I play, and I want to do everything I can to help this team win on a daily basis, and you guys see that.
“But off the field, that’s the kid you see out there tonight, and I was fortunate to share that with you guys and show that to the fans. This wasn’t only for me and my family and everybody like that, but this is for, you know, the cook, the guy that works the front, and the people that work upstairs. I mean, this is the whole city of D.C. I was very fortunate to be able to bring this back to them and do it here.”
In a vacuum, the words might sound disingenuous if you lean toward cynicism. Yet Harper spoke these words at the end of about a 12-hour workday in which, as one of the host players of this event, he attended a charity function in Virginia, calmly answered questions at two news conferences (the first for the All-Star Game’s National League roster and the second advancing the Derby), and then put on a show for the ages at the actual Derby.
Donning a red, white and blue bandana and right arm sleeve, Harper cruised past the Braves’ Freddie Freeman and the Dodgers’ Max Muncy by identical 13-12 scores, and then the drama was turned up. The Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber, having eliminated the Astros’ Alex Bregman and then the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins, set the bar high by going deep 18 times.
With the crowd chanting, “Let’s Go Harper!” the man of the hour ran from the home clubhouse to the field as if he were Rocky Balboa entering the ring. He started really slowly, totaling just nine in the first 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and he called his second and last timeout with 1:20 remaining. Not only did he look fatigued, but so did his pitcher, his father, Ron Harper.
Then, the magic: Harper crushed nine homers in the next 80 seconds, tying the score as the buzzer sounded. And because he included a moon shot among his first 18, he earned a bonus 30 seconds. He blasted his dad’s second pitch of the bonus round to straightaway center field for a 434-foot winner.
“It’s unbelievable,” Harper said.
It’s unlikely, at least, that Harper’s Nationals own a 48-48 record at the break, five games out of a playoff spot, and that Harper has an underwhelming .214/.365/.468 slash line with 23 homers. Hence the speculation about whether Harper would still join Manny Machado in surpassing Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325 million package from the Marlins.
“I think as a team … we can do a lot better as a group, as a whole,” Harper said. “And personally, of course, I want to be hitting .300 and driving in runs and stuff like that.”
Earlier Monday, Harper’s agent Scott Boras said, “You pay for intimidation. You pay for the on-base. And you pay for the mistakes. So that’s a metric.”
You know what else is a metric? Ticket sales. You think whichever team signs Harper, even if he re-ups with the Nats, will be running this Derby footage?
Did we see a star reborn Monday night, a fortune recovered? We witnessed something memorable, that’s for sure. Now we eagerly await the rest of Harper’s tale.