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Harper's walk-off winner

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Harper's walk-off winner

He'd already had multiple opportunities to be the hero, in the bottom of the ninth and the bottom of the 11th. That Bryce Harper found himself with yet another chance to deliver for the Nationals in the bottom of the 12th was a remarkable twist of fate in a marathon ballgame that featured enough twists and turns to leave even the most ardent of roller coaster enthusiasts nauseous.

Harper had done something rare in his previous at-bat, chasing pitches from Mets rookie right-hander Elvin Ramirez well out of the zone and striking out to leave the winning run stranded on base. Now, one inning later, he had another opportunity against Ramirez, and he was determined not to waste this one.

"I've been pretty patient the whole time I've been up here, so for him to get me like that, I was pretty pissed off about that right there," Harper said. "I wasn't going to go up there and do the same thing."

The 19-year-old lived up to his promise. Though he fell behind in the count, Harper didn't let the moment get the best of him. He calmly poked Ramirez's 0-2 fastball into left field, bringing Jesus Flores home with the run that gave the Nationals a stirring, 7-6 victory and gave the phenom the first walk-off hit of his career.

And the first player to greet Harper near first base, leaping into his waiting arms? Ryan Zimmerman, a man who has been at the center of those scenes a few times in his career, having slugged eight walk-off home runs since 2006.

"Oh my gosh, that was unbelievable," Harper said. "Sharing that moment with Zim, I think, it was pretty unbelievable."

Zimmerman, in his usual deadpan style, explained his moment of jubilation.

"I was just so happy the game was over and we won," he said. "It could've been you out there and I would've done the same thing."

Harper, of course, is unlike you. Really, he's unlike just about anyone who has ever played this game. Already entrusted at 19 to help carry a first-place ballclub, he added another impressive tally to his ever-growing list of accomplishments: He became the first teenager to record a walk-off hit in the major leagues since Gary Sheffield did it for the Brewers on Sept. 9, 1988.

Not that the Nationals look at him as a teenager, or even as a rookie, anymore.

"He's a man-child," Michael Morse said. "He's unbelievable."

"The kid's a gamer," Ian Desmond said, adding to the superlatives being tossed around the postgame clubhouse. "He's unbelievable. One of the best players I've ever seen, to be honest."

Harper's two-out, bases-loaded single to left ended this game and ensured the Nationals would sit alone atop the NL East, but it would not have been possible if not for a string of clutch hits by his teammates prior to that point.

Three of them, incredibly, were delivered by Desmond, who thrice drove in the tying run over the game's final five innings.

Desmond's eighth-inning single brought Zimmerman home to make this a 4-4 game. His hard-hit ball to shortstop in the 10th -- a ball that ate up New York's Jordany Valdespin and resulted in his second error of a nightmare inning -- again brought Zimmerman home to make it a 5-5 game. And his double down the left-field line in the 12th brought Morse home to make it 6-6 and set the stage for a wild, wacky finish.

The key, in Desmond's mind, to all those clutch hits?

"I wasn't trying to win the game with a home run," he said. "I just wanted to score one run, just try to get the one in. I think that's a mistake that I've been making for a while: I would go up there and try to win the game instead of just hit."

The 12th-inning rally wasn't necessarily a work of art from the Nationals' perspective. It featured Jesus Flores drawing an intentional walk from Ramirez (who nearly threw one of those pitches to the backstop and allowed the winning run to score in that fashion). It featured Ross Detwiler (the last man standing in the bullpen) botching two bunt attempts and then drawing a walk to load the bases. It nearly was killed by Xavier Nady's grounder to first, which might have set off an inning-ending double play but instead led only to a force out at the plate.

And then it finally featured Harper's game-winner, leading to a mad celebration some 4 hours and 15 minutes after this game began, with a 19-year-old right in the middle of it all.

"He doesn't get caught up in the moment," Zimmerman said. "A lot of times it takes people some time to learn how to stay calm in those situations. Everyone's going to obviously not do it in those times, but for the most part for how young he is, he does a really good job."

The coolest part of it all for the rest of the Nationals? They know this won't be the last time they get to see Harper do this.

"It's awesome to see him learn and really just grow as a player right now," Detwiler said. "You know he's going to be in the same position he's in now in 10-15 years. It's pretty cool to see the beginning of it."

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

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USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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Nationals Roundup: Strasburg shines in Nationals' blowout of Braves

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NBC Sports Washington

Nationals Roundup: Strasburg shines in Nationals' blowout of Braves

In the first contest of a momentous four-game series, the Nationals trounced the Braves by a score of 13-4 behind Stephen Strasburg's historic performance. The Nationals improved to 51-44 and have the best record in baseball since May 24th

Here's the pertinent news to consider as the Nationals attempt to close the gap with division-leading Atlanta.  

Players News: 

Stephen Strasburg was effective as usual on the mound, but his performance at the plate was all anyone could talk about. He went 3-3 with two singles and a 420-foot bomb, becoming the second pitcher since 1973 to record three hits, a HR, and five RBIs in a game. In addition, he tossed 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball and registered his NL-leading 12th win of the season. 

Adam Eaton opened the scoring with an RBI triple to plate Stephen Strasburg, the first of eight runs in the third inning. In 91 games, he's batting .283/.365/.391 with six home runs and 24 RBI as one of many unsung heroes of the Nationals' hot streak. 

Anthony Rendon went 3-5 on the day, knocking in Adam Eaton with a double to deep center to give the Nats a 2-1 lead in the third inning. In the five games since the All-Star game, Rendon is batting .421/.522/.579 with three doubles. 

Injuries:

SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 18

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Aug 25

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 16

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 17

Coming Up: 

Friday 7/19: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Sunday 7/21: Nationals at Braves, 7:05 p.m. SunTrust Park

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