MIAMI — The first time Bryce Harper connected flush with a pitch from Jacob Turner Wednesday night, he sent it into the first row of seats beyond the right field fence at Marlins Park. A quick, compact stroke that allowed him to go down and retrieve a pitch that came in low and line it over the wall.
It was a needed spark, a swing that gave the Washington Nationals their first lead in more than a week and first blood on a huge offensive night. It was the kickstart to an 8-4 victory over the Miami Marlins that broke the Nationals’ five-game losing streak and ended their road trip on a high note.
The second time he did it, one inning later, the sound was murderous. Estimated at 425 feet, it was longest home run hit by a left-hander at Marlins Park and it landed halfway up the second deck of seats in right field. His mammoth 14th homer of the season left his teammates watching in awe, mouths agape, and a crooked number on the scoreboard that the Nationals would continue to pad.
“He’s learning about himself and how he reacts to big league pitching,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who called a team meeting for the first time since May before Wednesday’s game to remind his players to relax and enjoy themselves.
“I mean he crushed that second one. I don’t know how far it went but it went a long way.”
This was the game they so desperately needed. This was the type of performance they’d been without the past five games — the one they lost somewhere along the way as they ran into good pitching with their offense in hibernation. They were hitless off the 21-year-old Turner the first time through the lineup, and then they unloaded both barrels on the new Marlin the second time around.
“This was a good win,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, one of six Nationals starters with two hits on the evening. “I think every team is going to go through a 5-10 game stretch, even the best teams, where you don’t play so well. And that’s what we went through.”
It wasnt without its heart-stopping moments, despite the offensive awakening that featured more runs than the Nationals had scored in total over their five-game losing streak. And it might never have been the win they needed for a happy flight home if right-hander Drew Storen hadn’t bailed them out of a jam in the eighth inning.
Storen, entering with runners on second and third and no outs, coaxed a fly out to center field by Carlos Lee, struck out Giancarlo Stanton after a terrificly entertaining at-bat and got Donnie Murphy to ground to third to end the frame — and the Marlins’ best threat — with a margin, at that point, of only two runs.
“That’s a big one for us,” Storen said, agreeing that it was probably the most high-pressure situation he’s pitched in since coming off the disabled list in July. “That was a lot of fun more than anything.”
It was soured some when Harper marked his first career multi-home run game as also the one in which he earned his first ejection as a major leaguer.
The 19-year-old was tossed in the top of the ninth inning when he spiked his helmet near first base umpire CB Bucknor after grounding into a double play. Johnson spoke with Harper, calling him “a 100 percenter” but “he’s just got to stop it. Can’t afford to be losing him in a ballgame with that. He’ll learn. He’s young.”
“I shouldn’t have done it but I don’t like hitting into double plays,” Harper said. “I just need to stop getting pissed off and just live with it… I just need to grow up in that mentality a little bit.”
Luckily for the Nationals, and for Harper, his ejection played a minimal role in the outcome of the game. His impact was felt well before Bucknor and his helmet crossed paths.
It didn’t change an up-and-down 5 2/3-inning performance by Ross Detwiler that he felt wasn’t great but was good enough to win. And it couldn’t ruin a victory five games in the making.