Bryce Harper stood at the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night, his team trailing by a run in a game it simply had to win to keep its slim postseason hopes alive.
There has been no more-feared hitter in the game this season than the 22-year-old slugger, the presumptive NL MVP thanks to a complete offensive performance that stacks right up with the best in baseball history.
So, what did Harper try to do to help the Nationals win this game against the Orioles? He tried to bunt. And his manager didn't like that one bit.
"No," Matt Williams said following a disheartening 4-3 loss. "We need a double there. They're shifting him. We've talked numerous times about it. He did it twice. I want him swinging the bat."
Here's the situation: Down 4-3 and leading off the eighth, Harper was facing Baltimore right-hander Mychael Givens. He didn't square around right away; he took the first pitch for ball one, then fouled off the next to even the count, 1-1.
That's when Harper decided to show bunt and when he wound up fouling off Givens' offering. The count now 1-2, he swung mightily and missed at a 93 mph fastball up and out of the zone, a costly strikeout to begin the inning.
"I'm just trying to put the ball in play," Harper said. "If I lay a bunt down the third-base side, it's a knock all day long. I'm on first base with [Jayson Werth] coming up. So, leadoff guy trying to get on base and do what I can. But I understand where [Williams] is coming from with that."
Harper has done this before. He'll occasionally square around to bunt, particularly against a tough left-hander, but rarely does he put the ball in play, typically fouling off the pitch or pulling back and taking it.
Only twice this season has Harper been able to get a bunt down, though he has successfully beaten it out for a hit each time. In his career, he's only 6-for-22 when getting a bunt down in fair territory.