Results tagged ‘ Gary Sheffield ’

Teenage Dream

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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.

 

#HarpeROY

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Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that Bryce Harper was awarded National League Rookie of the Month for September. While that trophy will no doubt find a nice home on the mantle next to the identical one he took home in May, we’re more interested in the 19 year-old’s candidacy for a larger award: National League Rookie of the Year.

Harper’s hustle was epitomized by his swipe of home for his first career steal.

Harper should not win the award because he’s the most famous first-year player in the league. He shouldn’t win because television networks choose to portray him as the face of the Nationals as they storm into their first-ever postseason. And while Harper may reap the benefits of his notoriety when the final vote comes down, it is his performance on the field and his unmistakably profound impact that will have earned him the award, should he win it.

Why? Harper changes the game around him. His ability – and propensity – to bunt, forces the third baseman to play near the line and square with the bag. His success against righties prompts pitcher-for-hitter bullpen moves from opposing managers. His speed prevents infielders from double-clutching, lest he turn a routine grounder into an infield single. Gather the ball too casually as an outfielder and a single becomes a double, or a double a triple. Did we mention he leads the team and ranks in the top 10 in the league with nine triples? In fact, he’s the first rookie with nine triples and 20 home runs since Nomar Garciaparra who, you guessed it, won Rookie of the Year back in 1997 with the Boston Red Sox.

On May 6, the Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game of NATITUDE Weekend. Cole Hamels decided to “welcome” the rookie to the big leagues by plunking him on his first pitch with two away and no runners on base in the first inning. When Chad Tracy followed with a single to left, Harper raced all the way to third base, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre. And we all remember what happened next, as the 19 year-old timed Hamels’ pick-off lob to first base, breaking for the plate and stealing home.

On June 5, the Nationals were embroiled in the tightest division race in baseball, as they opened a three-game set at home against the Mets in a three-way tie for first place with New York and Miami. The opening game of the series dragged into the 12th, as Ian Desmond kept the Nationals alive long enough for Harper to plate the winning run on a two-out, two-strike, bases loaded liner to left field. It was the first walk-off hit for any teenager since Gary Sheffield in 1988, three years before Harper was even born.

Harper leads all National League rookies with 57 extra-base hits, including 22 home runs. He is just the second teenager in history to hit 20 or more longballs in a season, joining Tony Conigliaro, who belted 24 for the ’64 Red Sox. Harper is doing more than standing out among his fellow rookies, though, as he is tearing up the league at a pace almost unfathomable for a teenager.

Harper’s prodigious power at such a young age puts him in elite company.

His 98 runs scored are 17 better than his closest competitor and ranks him fifth in the National League, ahead of Atlanta leadoff man Michael Bourn. His .651 slugging percentage and 69 total bases were both the second-highest marks in all of baseball for the month of September, while his 26 runs scored led the Majors. That’s right – no Major League Baseball player crossed home plate more times than Bryce Harper in the month of September.

After his second inning steal Tuesday night, the center fielder and two-hole hitter on the best team in baseball sat just two swipes shy of a 20-20 season, with an OPS north of .800 for the season.

Harper doesn’t need his Rookie of the Year case made for him. But hey, we figured we’d do it anyway, to remind everyone of just how historic a season he has delivered. Share your own favorite Harper moments in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #HarpeROY.

September Comes Early

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Of the 26,256 fans who paid to see the Nationals and Mets duke it out over 12 thoroughly entertaining innings Tuesday night, those that stuck out the entirety of the affair were treated to almost everything the game of baseball has to offer. A tightly fought contest throughout between the division rivals, with first place in the National League East on the line, there was even a slight chill to the air, which only added to the feeling that – despite the calendar reading June 5 – it felt like September baseball.

Tuesday’s contest certainly was not the prettiest of games, nor the most cleanly played. It may not have appealed to the baseball purist. But can you imagine if that was your very first game? If your introduction to watching the sport in person was punch followed by counterpunch, heapings of clutch hitting, costly errors and bases loaded situations, all wrapped into a three-comeback, 12-inning, four-hour 15-minute marathon, ending on the first walk-off of Bryce Harper’s career? Where do you go from there?

For at least one fan at the ballpark last night, it was their first Nationals game. Of course, the walk-off part is nothing new to fans who have been coming all season. In their 26 home games so far this year through Tuesday night, the Nats have walked off a Major League-leading six times, five of which have come in extra innings. They’ve done so twice against the Reds, and once apiece vs. the Marlins, Phillies, and now, the Mets.

The Nationals mob Harper following his first career walk-off hit.

Harper’s walk-off hit was the first by a teenager since Gary Sheffield, as a rookie playing for the then-American League Milwaukee Brewers, singled home pinch-runner Mike Felder in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, on September 9, 1988. For those trying to do the math, that was more than four years before Harper was born.

That storyline overshadowed a tremendous game from Ian Desmond, who almost single-handedly kept the Nationals alive long enough to allow Harper’s heroics to even happen. After the Mets pushed in front for the first time with two runs in the top of the eighth, Desmond drove home Ryan Zimmerman with a two-out hit in the bottom of the frame to tie it up. When New York forged ahead once again in the 10th, Desmond hit a screaming liner to shortstop that ate up Jordany Valdespin, allowing Zimmerman to score the tying run again. And when he batted in the 12th, following Michael Morse’s leadoff double, he came through once more, ripping a two-bagger of his own down the left field line to level the score at 6-6 and set the stage for Harper’s game-winner four batters later.

A single game-tying RBI makes for a decent night. To turn the trick twice is quite an accomplishment. But to help your team come from behind to tie the game three times in the same night, all in the eighth inning or later? That is a truly impressive performance, punctuated by a stellar, pure reaction defensive play on a bad hop at shortstop that shows just how complete a player Desmond is growing into this season.

Yet, it is the sign of a truly epic game that Desmond’s performance will be forgotten by many, or at least take a backseat to the ending, complete with the compulsory Gatorade bath. It was fitting that by the time eventual winning pitcher Ross Detwiler departed the bullpen and made his way to the mound for the 11th inning, the only man left in uniform behind him was Nationals Bullpen Coach Jim Lett, who saw each of his hurlers contribute to the victory. And the best part about it? We get to do it all over again tonight, and 55 more times after that at home this season.

 

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