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A grand conclusion to a wild Nats win

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A grand conclusion to a wild Nats win

PHOENIX — Michael Taylor strode to the plate in the top of the ninth Wednesday afternoon, the bases loaded with Nationals in a tight ballgame, and every one of the 19,026 souls at Chase Field had to have the same reaction.

Of course it would happen like this. Really, could you have expected anything else?

Only two innings earlier, Taylor was underneath the first-base stands, stretching his legs for what he assumed could be a potential pinch-running opportunity at some point. Except out on the field, Bryce Harper was livid with Rob Drake, going face-to-face with the plate umpire and his refusal to appeal to third base on a check-swing call that ended the top of the seventh.

Harper quickly got the heave-ho from Drake, as did manager Matt Williams, who raced out of the dugout to stand up for his young star. And so it was that Taylor found himself taking over in right field for the bottom of the inning, now serving as the Nationals’ cleanup hitter for the first time in his career.

And wouldn’t you know he would then find himself at the plate in the ninth, the bases full, the Nats trailing by a run, then proceed to launch the first grand slam of his career, a towering blast to center field that delivered a dramatic, 9-6 victory over the Diamondbacks?

“Of course I want to be up there in that situation,” Harper said. “But, Mike … I guess I owe him a steak dinner.”

It was a stunning, yet fitting, way to cap a bizarre series in the desert, one that featured a blowout win by each club, then a wild, back-and-forth affair in the finale. In the end, the Nationals emerged with their 12th win in 15 games, their fifth consecutive series victory.

“I think we got fortunate in that one,” Williams said. “They had a lot of opportunity. We allowed them a lot of opportunity. We were able to get the last swing. … But we were fortunate to win that one.”

The pivotal moment appeared to come during Harper’s seventh-inning at-bat, during what was then a 5-5 game. Harper tried to check his swing on a 2-2 pitch outside from lefty Oliver Perez, but Drake rung him up, insisting he hadn’t held up his swing. Harper immediately argued, telling the plate umpire he should’ve appealed to Gabe Morales at third base, as is typically custom on such check-swings.

Drake’s response, according to Harper: “You’re really gonna act like that?”

That only fired up Harper more, leading to a face-to-face argument and the fourth ejection of his career (first since 2013).

“I didn’t like that comment from him,” Harper said. “I don’t like getting talked down to by an umpire. I respect the umpires as much as I can, but to tell me I’m going to act like that, I gave him a piece of my mind.”

By the time Williams sprinted from the dugout, it was too late to save Harper from getting booted from the game but possibly not too late to save the young star from something worse. That, though, led to Williams’ ejection as well, his third since becoming Nationals manager last year.

“I’m going out there to protect Bryce,” Williams said. “If he gets kicked out of the game, he gets kicked out. But I don’t want anything further than that.”

Once Harper and Williams retreated to the clubhouse to watch the rest of the game out of public view, Taylor took over in right field and bench coach Randy Knorr took over as manager. Knorr needed his bullpen to keep the game tied, but after a couple of escape acts, Aaron Barrett couldn’t finish the job, surrendering a 2-out RBI single to Yasmany Tomas in the bottom of the eighth, giving Arizona a 6-5 lead and leaving the Nationals three outs from defeat.

They still had one more rally in them, though, beginning with Denard Span’s 1-out single off embattled Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed. Yunel Escobar followed with another single, then Jayson Werth battled to draw a walk and load the bases for the Nats’ cleanup hitter … who was not named Harper anymore but instead was the 23-year-old Taylor.

More than a few in the park had a hunch things would play out exactly like that.

“Oh yeah, that always crosses your mind, especially when you got a guy hitting 3-4-5 for you,” Werth said. “You want him in there at the end of the game, but luckily it worked out for us. Mikey got him off the hook.”

Indeed he did. Taylor blasted Reed’s 1-0 fastball at the knees to center field, reaching a cut-out in the giant batter’s eye high above the 407-foot mark. It was his first career at-bat with the bases loaded, and it produced the ultimate result.

“I was trying not to be too aggressive and chase something out of the zone,” Taylor said. “I kind of had my one spot, and if he threw it there, I was going to take a hack at it.”

After circling the bases, Taylor was greeted by an excitable group of teammates, who pounded him in celebration. The guy who really wanted to thank him, of course, wasn’t allowed to be in the dugout anymore.

Harper, though, will show his appreciation for his teammate with that steak dinner. Even though Taylor had a hunch Harper would’ve one-upped him had he been the one at the plate late Wednesday afternoon instead.

“Yeah, he probably would’ve hit it about 500 feet,” Taylor said with a smile.

MORE NATIONALS: Ninth-inning grand slam lifts Nationals over Arizona

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Nationals Roundup: Nats blow multiple leads in frustrating walk-off loss to Mets

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Nationals Roundup: Nats blow multiple leads in frustrating walk-off loss to Mets

The Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-5, Tuesday to drop their record to 19-29. 

Consider these news and notes as Washington trudges through its four-game series in New York: 

Players Notes:

NATIONALS: 

Erick Fedde made his first start of the season for Washington Tuesday night and put together a solid outing. The 26-year-old threw five innings of one-run baseball, allowing four hits, a walk, and strikeout. Thirty-one of his 61 pitches were sinkers.

Do you believe in the broadcaster's jinx theory? Perhaps you might after reading up on what Juan Soto did in the 2nd inning Tuesday. Then, later in the 8th, Soto scorched a go-ahead double to deep right notching his 100th career RBI. 

METS: 

Amed Rosario was the hero at Citi Field. His walk-off infield single off Kyle Barraclough was the difference in New York's 6-5 comeback win. 

The Mets got a quality start from starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, who threw seven innings of four-hit ball, three earned runs, two walks, and six strikeouts. 78 of his 118 pitches were thrown for strikes. 

Pete Alonso is lighting it up right now. His game-tying 417-foot home run in the 8th marked his 16th of the season. 

Injuries: 

SP Jeremy Hellickson: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 31

RP Justin Miller: shoulder, expected to be out until at least May 31

SP Anibal Sanchez: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 27

OF Andrew Stevenson: back, expected to be out until at least May 24

1B Matt Adams: shoulder, expected to be out until at least May 22

1B Ryan Zimmerman: foot, expected to be out until at least May 23

RP Koda Glover: elbow, expected to be out until at least May 25

RP Trevor Rosenthal: viral infection, Expected to be out until at least May 21

RP Austen Williams: shoulder, expected to be out until at least Jun 13

Coming Up:

Wednesday, 5/22: Nationals @ Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET, Citi Field 

Thursday, 5/23: Nationals @ Mets, 12:10 p.m. ET, Citi Field

Friday, 5/24: Marlins @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park

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Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans after they call him overrated because of course he did

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Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans after they call him overrated because of course he did

It's not just the City of Brotherly Love that heckles Bryce Harper from time to time, it's also one of the clubs he spurned during his offseason tour before settling on Philadelphia.

Prior to losing on a walk-off single to Cubs' star Javy Baez, Harper had a battle going on aside from the scheduled matchup, and that battle didn't involve any players on the opposing squads, but it did include the fans that fill their seats at Wrigley Field.

After the fans booed him all evening and labeled him overrated, the former Nats star chucked a fastball right over their heads and across the street.

Fortunately, the ball didn't break any nearby windows.

We hope. 

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