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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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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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