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Nationals tied atop NL East after walk-off homer against Yankees

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Nationals tied atop NL East after walk-off homer against Yankees

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: An enticing matchup between the red-hot Nationals (featuring the red-hot Bryce Harper) and the first-place Yankees produced some extra buzz at the ballpark Tuesday night. That the opener of this 2-game interleague showdown lived up to the hype only added to the intrigue.

The Nationals burst out to a 2-0 lead thanks to first-inning homers from Ian Desmond and (who else?) Harper, who launched his 10th homer in 12 games and 15th overall to right-center. But Gio Gonzalez, after a perfect three innings to begin his night, proceeded to give the Yankees six runs back in the fourth and fifth.

No worries, because the Nationals stormed back to tie the game thanks to RBI hits from Clint Robinson, Desmond and Yunel Escobar, then a solo homer by Wilson Ramos (which extended his MLB-best hitting streak to 19 games). That left this game knotted at 6 heading into the latter innings, turning it into a battle of bullpens.

The Nats' relief corps did its part, with Blake Treinen, Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and Drew Storen combining to toss four scoreless innings. The back of the Yankees' pen, though, was just as effective, with Dellin Betances recording six outs to keep his ERA locked at 0.00 and send this game to extra innings.

That's when an old friend showed up to deliver one of his patented big drives when it matters most. Ryan Zimmerman launched a pitch off Andrew Miller off the right-field foul pole in the bottom of the 10th, his 10th career walk-off homer (first since 2013). This one puts the Nats in a first-place tie with the Mets in the NL East.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It's gotten to the point where we just expect Harper to homer, and we're surprised when he doesn't. So when he reached down to drive Nathan Eovaldi's 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the first over the right-center field fence, the reaction was actually a bit muted given the circumstances. It shouldn't have been, because Harper's continued run has been a thing of beauty to watch. He has now homered 10 times in 12 games, a span in which he has posted a .660 on-base percentage. He's not getting many pitches to hit, but he's sure taking advantage of the ones he does get.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Everything started out so well for Gonzalez. He retired the first nine batters he faced, retiring all nine of them on groundballs, needing only 30 pitches to do it. That was as effective and efficient a stretch as the lefty has had in a long time, maybe in his career. And then it all came crumbling down during a laborious top of the fourth in which Gonzalez lost command, lost focus and lost the lead. He gave up four runs in that inning, needing 41 pitches to complete the frame. His troubles continued in the fifth when he served up Mark Teixeira's 2-run homer. Just like that, what could've been a dominant outing by Gonzalez morphed into a 5-inning struggle.

DRAMATIC DEBUT: Wilmer Difo was surprised to get called up Tuesday after only 33 games above low-Class A, but the 23-year-old infielder wasn't surprised to succeed when given the opportunity to make his major-league debut in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch-hitting for Treinen, Difo laced a line-drive single up the middle off David Carpenter, notching his first career hit in his first career at-bat. Was the rookie nervous? "Nah," he said via bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez. "That's what he knows how to do is hit, so he says he didn't get nervous." And what was Difo thinking when he got to first base? "He says as soon as he got on there, he was thinking about stealing second base," Martinez said. "That's the only thing."

KEY STAT: Harper has now hit more home runs in 40 games this season than any member of the Nationals did the entire 2008 season.

UP NEXT: This quick, 2-game interleague series wraps up at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday when Jordan Zimmermann (3-2, 3.66) faces right-hander Adam Warren (2-2, 4.50).

MORE NATIONALS: Janssen needs more work before he's ready to make Nats debut

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm