- - Sunday, April 29, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers were smiling at the end.   Kemp’s game-winning home run lifted the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory in 10 innings over the Washington Nationals on Saturday.

But the Nationals had to be smiling some, too, despite blowing a 3-1 lead in the ninth and losing for the third straight time.

Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft who is regarded as one of the game’s top prospects, made his major-league debut at 19 years old.  Take away the score and the debut was a victory.  Harper had a double in three at-bats and hit a sacrifice fly in the ninth to put the Nationals on top.

Adam LaRoche’s home run broke a scoreless tie in the seventh, and Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley followed it up by fanning the next two batters, bringing Harper to the plate.

Billingsley battled Harper by throwing inside. His first pitch missed the plate inside, but then Harper took a strike on the inside of the plate and fouled off the next pitch. Billingsley tried to tempt the 19-year-old by throwing the next two pitches outside the strike zone. Harper didn’t bite and the count ran full.

“[Billingsley] got me out with sinkers the first two times,” said Harper. “I wanted to get a pitch up high.”

Billingsley came back inside to jam Harper on the 3-2 pitch. Harper fouled the ball off. He tried to jam Harper again. It was a mistake.

Harper hit the ball over Kemp’s head in center field. The ball hit the base of the center-field wall, and Harper had a stand-up double for his first major league hit. He finished the game 1-for-3.

“(Jerry) Hairston came over and said congratulations,” said Harper, who also made an outstanding throw in the bottom of the seventh to home plate. The throw was perfect: it beat the runner, Hairston, to the plate, but Ramos could not hold onto the ball and Hairston scored. Nats manager Davey Johnson said he thought Hairston slapped the ball away when both players were on the ground.

 “You can’t move the ball aside and roll it away,” said Johnson, who said home plate umpire Mark Carlson didn’t ask for help. “You can hit the catcher, but you can’t move the ball away on the ground.”

The game-winner was Kemp’s league-leading 11th home run of the season, and he also has a major-league high .442 batting average and is tied for the lead with 24 RBI. 

Harper’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly to left field — his first major league RBI — drove in Rick Ankiel with the tie-breaking run to give the Nats 2-1 lead. Wilson Ramos followed with an RBI single.

Stephen Strasburg threw seven innings, giving up one run on five hits, no walks and nine strikeouts. He threw 72 of his 101 pitches for strikes. 

“[Strasburg] said he could go longer,” Johnson said, declining to send him out for the eighth. “I don’t want him to reach his innings limit before the All-Star game.”

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