ST. LOUIS — Cameras pressed Bryce Harper against his locker.
Four strikeouts in Monday's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of a National League Division Series dropped the young Washington Nationals outfielder to 1 for 10 with six strikeouts in the postseason.
So, one reporter asked the 19-year-old, is he overanxious at the plate?
The camera lights made the perspiration on Harper's forehead sparkle. He played sick Monday, fighting a vicious case of strep throat, but didn't fall back on the excuse.
"Overanxious?" Harper said. "You think so?"
"Yes," the reporter replied.
"Well," Harper said, "you should be a hitting coach."
Harper's look could've melted an iceberg.
The illness has complicated Harper's introduction to the postseason. The all-consuming hustle is there. Same for the greasy smears of eye black. But, at least yet, the results haven't matched Harper's remarkable rookie season in which he hit .270 with 22 home runs.
Even his first postseason hit, a legged-out double to center field in the seventh inning, turned into a costly out. With two on and no out, Ryan Zimmerman followed with a sacrifice fly to left field. Matt Holliday's attempt at a throw sputtered into the grass in shallow left field.
"Sometimes you've got to roll the dice," Harper said.
So he bolted for third base and, as has followed his base-running adventures at times this season, was thrown out with ease.
"That's inexperience, too," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "That kind of killed the rally we had going. He's overly aggressive there. He didn't tag up. He had to go back and tag up and that was right. But it was wrong to try to go to third."
All four of Harper's strikeouts Monday came swinging. But he expressed no concern about the goings-on at the plate and refused to retreat to any explanation, even the bothersome early-innings shadow that crept across the field. His teammates aren't worried, either. After all, Harper survived an 0 for 7, five-strikeout game against the New York Yankees in June, among other bumps.
"Bryce is fine," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Sometimes you go into funks during the season. You've got to find a way to get out of it. A lot of times, you might not be seeing it good. But he'll be fine."
Added shortstop Ian Desmond: "I don't think he's scuffling at all. He's 19 years old. He's getting good at-bats. I wouldn't say he's scuffling in any sense of the word. I just think he's not getting hits right now. If you miss enough, you're bound to hit."
After a few minutes, Harper's chat ended. He stepped back toward his locker, hair freshly spiked and ready to return to Washington for Wednesday's Game 3. The cameras lights clicked off. He didn't look anxious. He looked ready.
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