Nationals

Mendenhall gives Steelers lift in return

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Mendenhall gives Steelers lift in return

PITTSBURGH (AP) Rashard Mendenhall's surgically repaired right knee is just fine. So too it seems is the Pittsburgh Steelers' running game.

Cutting with authority and showcasing the explosiveness that made him a vital part of Pittsburgh's offense, Mendenhall rolled up 101 total yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 16-14 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday.

``Our savior is back,'' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked. ``We've been teasing him all week. It was great to see him out there and he did a great job.''

Playing for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee on New Years Day, Mendenhall revived Pittsburgh's beleaguered running game to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger. The Steelers (2-2) came in 31st in the league in rushing yards per game and dead last in yards per carry.

Mendenhall took care of that, averaging a robust 5.8 yards on 14 carries, not including a 29-yard run wiped out by one of Pittsburgh's nine penalties.

``When I stepped out there I knew that I would be comfortable and just wanted to go out there and play the best that I could, and I was able to do that,'' Mendenhall said.

He was just as effective out of the backfield, catching two passes for 20 yards, including a 15-yard screen pass during Pittsburgh's final drive that ended with Shaun Suisham's 34-yard field goal as time expired.

``I thought he not only ran well and caught the ball, but he was a source of energy for the unit,'' said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin. ``That's what great players do. They inspire those around them. I thought he did that for the group.''

Philadelphia (3-2) appeared on the verge of its third one-point win on the season when Michael Vick found Brent Celek for a 2-yard score with 6:33 remaining, but the Eagles couldn't slow down the Steelers during a methodical final drive in which Roethlisberger converted a pair of critical third downs.

``I think they just made one more play than we did, and it happens,'' said Philadelphia safety Kurt Coleman.

It's something the Eagles had done with regularity during September, when they won three games by a total of four points.

The Eagles trailed the whole way but put together a grinding 17-play, 79-yard drive at the start of the final quarter, converting a pair of risky fourth downs, including one deep inside their own territory. LeSean McCoy turned both into first downs, twisting for the necessary yardage on fourth-and-inches at the Philadelphia 30, then bulling for two yards on fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 47.

``I don't know how I can say this humble ... we felt like we could drive on them,'' McCoy said.

Scoring, however, proved to be another matter.

``You're going to need to score more points, going to need to help our defense out a lot more,'' Vick said. ``And we tried to the best we can. Pittsburgh's a good football team; their record might not have shown it.''

The Steelers came in smarting following a 34-31 loss in Oakland two weeks ago before heading into a well-timed bye that allowed the defense to get healthy. Pittsburgh hoped the return of linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu from injury would spark a defense that looked a step slow in the second half of losses to the Raiders and Broncos.

The reunion of the two stars didn't last long.

Polamalu left in the first quarter after re-aggravating a strained right calf and the Steelers lost outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley with a strained hamstring shortly thereafter.

Still, the Steelers prevented the Eagles from making big plays. Philadelphia's longest gain was all of 24 yards and Pittsburgh forced Vick to fumble three times - including one into the end zone that Steelers linebacker Larry Foote pounced on - and didn't let him get anything going with his legs.

``Our defense stood up today,'' said Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons. ``We really needed this win. A good team is always defined by what they do after losses.''

Pittsburgh took a 10-0 halftime lead behind a lateral from Roethlisberger to Mendenhall that the running back turned into a 13-yard touchdown. The Steelers later added 20-yard field goal by Suisham, though they missed a chance to go up two touchdowns when Jerricho Cotchery tripped going into the end zone just before Suisham's kick.

Philadelphia drew within 10-7 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Vick to McCoy, setting up a dramatic fourth quarter in which the Steelers turned the tables on the Eagles.

``Things happen,'' Vick said. ``I wish I could take the fumble back on the goal line but you can't. Ultimately I think we put ourselves into a position to win this game and we didn't win.''

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.

3.

He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.

13.

Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


10.

In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


5.

In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


45.

Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


2.

That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


19,058.

Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

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With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

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USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.

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