Today, October 16, 2012, Bryce Harper turns 20. Really think about that for a moment. While you’ve heard “teenage this” and “teenage that” all season long, it is truly remarkable to step away from the list of facts and figures and just appreciate everything Harper was able to do at the highest level of the professional game before his 20th birthday. We’ll save the inevitable Mike Trout comparisons for later in the offseason, but for now, take a look back at some of the highlights and vote at the bottom of the post for the one that most impressed you during Harper’s tenure as a Major League teenager.
4/29 @ LAD: Welcome to the Show
Harper didn’t take very long to announce his presence to the Major League world, scalding a double to the wall in his first game in Los Angeles. But perhaps his most memorable play from that first series came in his second game, as he ranged deep into center field and snagged a ball off the bat of Juan Uribe right before slamming into the wall. He held on, and gunned the ball back to the infield, nearly doubling the runner off first base. The catch would set the tone for the all-out, aggressive style Nationals fans would come to know and love throughout the year.
5/6 vs. PHI: Harper Steals Home
Big-time players always seem to shine the brightest on the biggest stages. In his first early test, against the division-rival Phillies on national television, Harper was plunked on the first pitch he saw from Cole Hamels. Some forget that on Chad Tracy’s two out single to left, the rookie went first-to-third, right in front of Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre. That set up the play that everyone remembers, as Harper took advantage of a lazy pick-off attempt by Hamels and sprinted home. He slid under the tag of Carlos Ruiz, swiping home for his first Major League stolen base.
6/5 vs. NYM: Teenage Walk-off
In an epic game that featured three game-tying RBI by Ian Desmond, it was Harper who finally delivered the coup de gras. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 12th, he laced a single the other way, handing the Nationals a walk-off win over the Mets. It marked the first Major League walk-off by a teenager since Gary Sheffield’s game-winning hit in 1988, four years before Harper was born.
6/12 @ TOR: Border Crossing
One of Harper’s calling cards on his scouting report was his prodigious power. And while he hit some big home runs in 2012, perhaps none had the awe factor of the one he teed up in Toronto, as the Nationals were busy sweeping a 6-0 road trip. His moon shot, appropriately, drew “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd, and dented the Blackberry ad hanging from the second deck in right-center field at Rogers Centre, punctuating the sign’s slogan: Be Bold. Be bold, indeed.
8/29 @ MIA – 9/5 vs. CHC: A Pair of Two-homer Games in a Week
One of the big early-season questions was whether or not Harper would hit 20 home runs in his rookie campaign. While he was behind pace for a while, he caught fire near season’s end, homering twice on August 29 in Miami, then turning the trick again a week later against the Cubs in Washington. He finished with 22 longballs, fourth on the team behind only Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
9/7 vs. MIA: Don’t Run on Bryce
Even by late in the season, word of Harper’s arm was slow to spread throughout the league. Teams continued to test him, and he continued to come up with huge defensive plays. His eight outfield assists tied him for the lead among National League rookie outfielders, and included this gem, where his bullet home beat Greg Dobbs by 20 feet.
9/21 vs. MIL: Bryce Over Braun
In a 2-1 game against a Milwaukee team still clinging to postseason dreams, reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun stood at second base with one out in the fourth inning. When Aramis Ramirez singled to center Braun sped around third and chugged towards home, and was a mere 50 feet from the plate by the time Harper unleashed the ball towards Jesus Flores. No matter, though, as the rookie delivered a strike and Flores applied the swipe tag on a stunned Braun for the out to keep the Nationals in front.
10/12 vs. STL: Welcome to the Postseason
In the final game of the 2012 campaign, Harper tripled in his first at-bat, then sent this rocket into the right-center field seats at Nationals Park for his first-ever postseason home run. We get the feeling it won’t be his last.