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Harper's career day puts him in elite company in baseball history

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Harper's career day puts him in elite company in baseball history

Bryce Harper entered the major leagues in 2012 with a legend that preceded him, expectations of greatness and the potential to someday be one of the best hitters in baseball. The thought was that one day he would be capable of special things, special games that would earn him a place in baseball's long and decorated history.

Wednesday at Nationals Park was one of those days, as the 22-year-old outfielder became the 10th-youngest player ever to hit three home runs in one game. He accomplished that feat in a span of just three at-bats spread across five innings, giving him a shot at four homers, a milestone rarer than a perfect game.

Harper had never hit three homers in one game before in the majors, but he had at several levels on his way through the amateur and professional ranks. He hit for the cycle and blasted four home runs in a game at the College of Southern Nevada. Both of those feats he did twice. He also hit three home runs in the minors during a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg last June.

Most predicted Harper would have games like this at some point in the majors, Harper himself included.

"That's how I should be, plain and simple. That's how I should be. That's how I expect myself to play," he said.

"If it's hitting homers or hitting doubles or anything, that's what I need to do. That's what I expect out of myself. Of course, you're not going to do that every single day. You're not going to hit three homers, or whatever, and drive in five. But that's the type of player I need to be."

All three of Harper's homers came off of Marlins starter Tom Koehler. The first was a solo shot to left field in the second inning, an opposite field flyball that bounced off the back wall of the visitors bullpen. The second landed in the second deck in right field, a two-run bomb in the third inning. The third homer also landed in the second deck, another solo smash in the bottom of the fifth.

The final home run earned Harper a standing ovation and curtain call from the 31,417 in attendance at Nationals Park. Harper obliged, though he later joked that he wished the crowd would have held off on the gesture.

"I didn't want to go up there because I wanted to get one more," he said. "I wish they would have waited because I think I got up too early. I went up there and said 'thank you' for that. I wish they would have waited unless I would have got four."

Starter Max Scherzer - who earned the win in the Nats' 7-5 victory - was fired up after the game about Harper's performance.

“I didn’t see any of his home runs. I was actually in the tunnel underneath trying to stay cool. But I definitely heard all three," he said. "Definitely on the second and third ones when I heard it I just looked at the security guard and said ‘see ya!’ It’s in the upper deck. I didn’t even have to watch it to know where they were hit.”

Harper had a chance for a fourth home run in the seventh inning against Marlins reliever Sam Dyson. There was one out and runners on the corners. Harper finished the at-bat with a groundout to second, one that was soft enough to score Ian Desmond from third. That gave Harper his fifth RBI of the afternoon.

Harper became the youngest player to have three home runs and five RBI in one game since Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers did so on April 17, 1955. The last player younger than him to have three home runs was Joe Lahoud of the Red Sox on June 11, 1969.

Harper is now tied for second in the NL with eight homers, that to go along with his MLB-best 26 walks. At 22 years old, he is starting to round into form as one of the most complete offensive players in the game.

Manager Matt Williams has seen that transition and thinks Harper is developing into much more than just a good player.

"I think that the biggest way that you become a leader of your team is doing stuff like he did today," Williams explained. "So is the way he’s led thus far is he’s taking his walks. He’s providing opportunity for anybody else that hits behind him. He’s also doing what he did today. He’s playing exceptional defense. All of those things are qualities of a true leader without having opened his mouth. That’s the ultimate leader."

With plenty of help from Harper, the Nationals are now winners of three consecutive series and seven of their last nine games. Harper also expected the team to come around after a slow start to the year and believes they will continue to get even better.

"We've been playing well," he said. "People can talk about 'oh, they started slow, or they started this or they started that. They're not hitting, they're not doing this, they're not doing that.' It's all hearsay. We're a great team. We're going to come at you and play hard and play the game the right way. We got a great staff and a great lineup. We're missing a couple of guys, but once we get them back, it's going to be stupid."

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over. Manager Davey Martinez disputed that idea.

“I mean we're not out of it that's for sure, I can tell you that right now," Martinez said after Thursday’s 6-4 loss. “Like I said, everyday we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble is tomorrow may not matter anymore.

“Things are going to change,” Martinez said. “Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. There's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around.”

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

Perhaps Davey Martinez senses his job security is in serious jeopardy as the team continues to underperform and slip its way down the competitive NL East division. 

The second-year Nationals manager, who's gone 101-111 since accepting the job, reached a boiling point Thursday when he was ejected in the 8th for arguing a called strike three on a Howie Kendrick check swing. 

“I just didn’t think he [Kendrick] swung. And we just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire’s there. And he didn’t like it. I did what I had to do.”

"Things are going to change. Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. there's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around," Martinez reiterated postgame, as he so often has this season. 

Martinez, typically mild-mannered in the dugout, tied Matt Williams on the all-time career ejections as a manager list with his third Thursday. 

First-year National and MLB veteran second baseman Brian Dozier stood behind his manager after the crushing loss. 

“Davey does a really, really good job of always defending his players. Whether that be on the field to an umpire, to you guys, in the media, in the clubhouse, wherever it is, he does a really good job of that.”

The Nationals' 6-4 loss to New York marked the team's fifth straight as it falls to 19-31 on the season. They return home Friday night for a four-game set at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins. 

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