Harper re­turns, lends hand in no-hitter

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHELSEA JANES chelsea.janes@wash­post.com

Washington Na­tion­als right fielder Bryce Harper seemed un­likely to play Satur­day. He had strained his left ham­string two days ear­lier on an omi­nous-look­ing slip in the out­field that looked like it might cost him months — but cer­tainly more than a day.

But around 9 a.m. Satur­day, Harper texted Man­ager Matt Wil­liams to tell him he could play. Nine hours later, he was part of history, driv­ing in two runs in sup­port of the Na­tion­als’ other su­per­star as Max Scherzer pitched the sec­ond no-hitter in team history.

When Harper’s name ap­peared on­the lineup card, re­porters prod­ded him about risk­ing his longterm health. “I’m in the lineup” is all he would say, re­peat­ing that re­sponse again and again.

He pro­vided a more thor­ough an­swer in the fourth in­ning when he came to bat against Pittsburgh’s Fran­cisco Liri­ano. The left-han­der had al­lowed one home run to a lefty since June 10, 2014, but hung a 1-1 slider. Harper drove it out to dead cen­ter field, into the grass be­yond where the left-cen­ter and right-cen­ter field walls meet at a point.

As the ball trav­eled 436 feet, Harper took his time ex­it­ing the bat­ter’s box and then jogged lightly to first, which likely had lit­tle to do with his sore leg, keep­ing two eyes on the ball un­til it landed. At that point, he­made­his 23rd home run trot of the sea­son, a ca­reer high. Two in­nings later, he sin­gled through the left side in the midst of a four-run rally. He drove in two of the six runs that sup­ported Scherzer’s gem.

“His knee’s all bruised up, his hammy’s tight and he’s up there com­pet­ing, bat­tling through in­juries ob­vi­ously, but he’s hurt,” Scherzer said. “He can play through pain. Thats hows you how much of a com­peti­tor he is. I re­spect that a tremen­dous amount.”

Of Harper’s 23 home runs this sea­son, 10 have come in Scherzer’s 14 starts. Harper said see­ing a pitcher work the way Scherzer does “gets you locked in even more.”

“I told him when we came in, ‘You keep pitch­ing like that, I’ll keep hit­ting homers,’ ” Harper said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Harper played in pain Satur­day be­cause his left leg is beaten up. He was hit with a pitch in the left quad last week­end in Mil­wau­kee. The deep bruise that fol­lowed forced him out of Sun­day’s se­ries fi­nale, then to serve as des­ig­nated hitter on Trop­i­cana’s Field ar­ti­fi­cial turf Mon­day in St. Peters­burg, Fla., against the Rays. He tested the knee lightly Fri­day with weight lift­ing and mo­bil­ity ex­er­cises, but the Na­tion­als still watched him cau­tiously in bat­ting prac­tice Satur­day to see whether he could play.

He did and was tested im­me­di­ately. The sec­ond bat­ter of the game, Pi­rates left fielder Star­ling Marte, drove a fly ball to deep right. Harper had to chase and leap but made the catch in front of the out-of-town score­board. From then on, through two more putouts and two hits in four at-bats, he looked fine.

“I just wanted to be in the lineup,” Harper said. “If that’s me be­ing sore, me be­ing hurt, this team needs me. I’m gonna cow­boy up ev­ery sin­gle­day I can play. If I can’t go that day, I’ll let them know. If I can, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Harper was not on the field when Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann com­pleted his no-hitter last year, re­lieved of his du­ties ear­lyon the last day of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Banged up though he was, he did not miss this one.

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

BryceHarper hits a solo home run in the fourth in­ning. He added an RBI sin­gle in the sixth.

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