CINCINNATI — He had just gone 0-for-3, striking out a couple of times and having very little impact on the 86th MLB All-Star Game. And this after having very little impact on the 83rd and 84th Midsummer Classics.
Bryce Harper, though, was all smiles late Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. It mattered not at all that he went hitless during the National League's 6-3 loss to the American League, nor that his career All-Star batting record now shows him 0-for-6 with a walk and three strikeouts.
"Not really," the young star admitted. "I'm sorry to say that, but as long as I'm getting hits during the season and we're winning ballgames, that's all that matters. Just like the Derby. I'd rather hit homers in a game than in the Home Run Derby. Of course you want to get a knock in the All-Star Game, and the first one's going to be pretty cool. But all in all, you just try to get your knocks during the season and do your damage there."
Not that Harper enjoy watching Mike Trout steal all the thunder at this event. The Angels outfielder did it yet again Tuesday night, homering to lead off the game and becoming the first player ever to be named All-Star MVP two years in a row.
But Harper also understands legacies aren't built on what you do in mid-July but what you do from April through September and then especially what you do in October. (Quick: Do you know Derek Jeter's career batting average in All-Star Games? Didn't think so.)
"I just try to have as much fun as I can," Harper said of his approach to All-Star week. "Hanging out with the guys, getting to know everybody from the other teams and playing for a manager that you don't normally play for, you just try to enjoy it as much as you can. And that's what I try to do every time I'm here."
Truth be told, there wasn't much fun to be had during any of Harper's three at-bats Tuesday night. He was left to face three of the toughest left-handers in the game: Houston's Dallas Keuchel, Detroit's David Price and Baltimore's Zach Britton.
Harper made contact only once, grounding out to third against Keuchel in the bottom of the first. He struck out on a 1-2 changeup from Price to lead off the bottom of the fourth. And then he struck out on a 2-2 changeup from Britton in the bottom of the sixth, though he missed an opposite-field double by only a couple of feet earlier in the at-bat.
"It's definitely tough," he said of his three at-bats against three different lefties. "It's a different atmosphere. You try to go deep a little bit and just have some fun with it. I had fun. That's all I'm going to say. I had fun."
Harper admitted he takes a slightly different approach to the plate in these exhibition games than he does the rest of the year.
"I don't know if I'm as locked in as I am during the season," he said. "You go up there and of course you want to do your thing and try to get some base knocks and try to win a game. But you have that urge to try to go deep and hit it as far as you can. It's a little bit different in the season when you're trying to have quality at-bats. Also, it's like spring training. You're facing a new guy every single day, every single at-bat. And he's an All-Star. So it's tough up there."
After finishing runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in the 2013 Home Run Derby in New York, Harper sat out this year's power contest. And he reiterated Tuesday night that he plans to sit out the next two as well. Why?
"San Diego and Miami," he said, listing the locations of the 2016 and 2017 All-Star Games. "Not really two good parks for a lefty to hit in."
Harper does already have grand plans for competing in the 2018 Derby at Nationals Park — "I think D.C.'s going to be a great place to host," he said — and he has no plan to take a full All-Star break anytime soon.
"Oh man, hopefully not for the next 15 years," he said. "I'd love to be here every single year."
Even if he still doesn't get a hit.
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