Hours before Max Scherzer made history against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Nationals revealed the surprising news that Bryce Harper was back in the lineup just 36 hours after suffering what first appeared to be a very scary injury.
Harper left Thursday's game after falling to the ground on a throw attempt and grimaced in pain as teammates and head trainer Lee Kuntz ran to his aid. It was diagnosed as a mild hamstring and no timetable was given.
But then Harper texted manager Matt Williams Saturday morning and said he was ready to play, so he did. And, in true Harper fashion, he played well.
Harper homered in his second at-bat on a hanging slider by Pirates' starter Francisco Liriano. He smoked it 436 feet to straightaway center field.
Harper established a career-high with the swing, as it was his 23rd homer of the season. He hit 22 as a rookie back in 2012.
"I felt alright. I was in the lineup. That’s what I wanted to do," Harper said. "This team needs me and I’m gonna cowboy up every single day I can play and if I can’t go that day then I’ll let ‘em know."
"We trust our guys that when they tell us they are ok to go, they are ok to go," Williams added.
"It's nice to see that he's healthy. I was definitely scared," Danny Espinosa said. "I didn't really know what happened, if it was his knee at first, or what happened. Fortunately it was just a minor strain and he was able to come back today and show that he's alright."
Harper now has 10 homers in the 14 games Scherzer has pitched this season. That means Harper has homered in 71 percent of Scherzer's outings.
Harper says that may not be a coincidence.
"Going out there and seeing a guy pitch like that every single day. Seeing a guy going every single start wanting to win, things like that. It just gets you locked in even more," he said. "I just put some good swings on some balls and was able to get a lot done. I told him ‘you keep pitching like that, I’ll keep hitting homers.’"
Harper admittedly feeds off Scherzer, and Scherzer said it went both ways on Saturday. Harper's homer helped fire Scherzer up.
"It just shows you how much of a competitor he is. His leg's all bruised up, his hammy's tight and he's out there competing, battling through injury," Scherzer explained.
"When I see somebody else going out there and competing like that, obviously hitting a home run, it just motivates you to keep competing as hard as you can. And I think it just kind of keeps going back and forth. The more he does it, the more I want to do it. The more I do it, the more he wants to do it. So I feel like the rest of the team picks up on it as well."
Harper also added an RBI single in the sixth inning. His return is obviously a great sign for the Nationals, who are already missing regulars Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. Barring a setback, he's all systems go.
"We need him. We need him to be in there," Williams said. "Came out of it fine, so I don’t anticipate any further issues with it."