BOSTON — Bryce Harper's Sunday began with bad news. He looked at the lineup, saw his name was not it in and set about the rest of his pregame routine with a stone face.
His sore back, the one he insists is not an issue, was mentioned to manager Davey Johnson by a coach and a trainer after Saturday night's game. Johnson sat him. Harper fumed.
So for eight innings in the Nationals' 4-3 victory, Harper sat, or at least tried to. He paced the dugout, he made it clear on at least two occasions to Johnson that he was "fine," and went into the cage to take a few swings as the duel between Jordan Zimmermann and Jon Lester at Fenway Park wore on.
"Just blowing bubbles with my bubble gum," he said.
There was one out in the ninth when his number finally was called, the Nationals and Red Sox tied 3-3 in their finale. "Pinch hit for Tyler Moore," Johnson told him. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went out to speak with closer Alfredo Aceves. Harper knew he wouldn't get anything to hit. Five pitches later he stood on first.
On the 2-2 pitch to Roger Bernadina, Harper took off.
"I'm scoring," he thought. "Absolutely."
He was around second by the time Bernadina's double was looping into right field and third base coach Bo Porter never stopped waving his right arm. The cutoff throw was errant. Harper slid. In the clubhouse, Zimmermann screamed at the television.
Harper popped up with a giant fist-pump, and the Nationals were one Tyler Clippard save away from their second sweep of the season.
"It was picture perfect," Johnson said. "Storybook perfect."
In a ballpark that had never witnessed a victory by their franchise, be it Montreal or Washington, the Nationals came into Boston and dropped a hammer on one of the American League East's perennial powers.
Over the course of three days, the Nationals asserted their dominance on the mound, they showed off their young talent and watched as their middle infielders wore out the Green Monster in left field. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa combined to hit .409 with six doubles.
When it was over, they'd given the Red Sox their first interleague sweep in 10 years.
"We've shown the baseball world what kind of team we are," Clippard said, his ninth save coming in his fifth day of work since Tuesday. "They're definitely a good club. I think we're better. I think we're a lot better."
Sunday's edition was filled with somewhat unlikely contributors. There was Bernadina, who'd botched a bunt with runners on second and third two innings earlier by popping it up to the first baseman, driving in the game winner.
Second baseman Espinosa working all season to find his stroke, taking the Red Sox left-handed pitchers, and the wall in left field for all it was worth with a two-out double ever-so-slightly off that wall to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead in the seventh.
Zimmermann scattering seven hits, baffling the Red Sox with his curveball and his slider more so than his fastball, and surviving long enough in a weak seventh inning to limit the Red Sox to just the game-tying run.
And then there was Harper. The Nationals' 19-year-old burst of energy, speeding around the base paths to help them secure a win that would put them two games clear of second place in the NL East and 12 over .500 for the first time since July 23, 2005.
When the Nationals left Fenway Park in 2006, they were practically run out of the building, outscored 26-9 and dominated in every possible way.
"There's a lot of places I felt embarrassed [back then]," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. "Not just here. That's just the way it was. We've come a long way. It doesn't really matter if it was here. We got a swept a lot of places. We weren't very good then. We were rebuilding still. Now it's a different story."
As they packed their bags Sunday evening, that much was clear.
"I think we were the team to beat right here," Espinosa said. "We're the first-place team, and we had the opportunity to sweep. That's what good teams do."
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