- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2017

Bryce Harper was surprised when he walked into the press conference room Saturday. He thought his media time was going to be in front of a green screen or some small, quaint setting. Harper apologized to the multiple cameramen and reporters for not being more sharply dressed. He was wearing a sweatshirt, shorts and backward hat.

Harper was one of two Nationals hitters to produce a hit Saturday night. That’s it. Small things and the lack of hitting have put Washington in a 1-0 hole against the Chicago Cubs in its best-of-five National League Division Series. Game 2 is Saturday at 5:38 p.m. at Nationals Park.

The opening loss puts Washington in a difficult spot. It has Gio Gonzalez pitching Saturday night because it had to push ace Max Scherzer back to Monday’s Game 3 in Chicago. Scherzer’s bullpen session on Friday went well. He was running sprints in right field Saturday afternoon. He appears ready. The questions will be how long he can pitch Monday and if the Nationals will be even or already facing an elimination game.

In the interim, the Nationals will have to deal with Jon Lester and pressure in Game 2. Harper has worked well with one during his life. Not so well with the other.

Harper pointed out Saturday that he played in front of thousands long before he could drive. Big games to him are standard, from when he was a kid to now, when he is still just 24 years old.

“I think coming into today, just got to have some fun and enjoy the game,” Harper said. “You know, that’s my biggest thing. You want to go out there and have fun. I’ve played in a lot of, you know, bigger games, I feel like than this. You know, Game 2 of the Postseason, it’s not got to win, but it’s not — I don’t know, I don’t want that to come off bad, but growing up, playing in front of 15,000 people at ten years old, it’s kind of the same thing to me.”

The problem for him Saturday is the left-handed Lester. Harper is 1-for-7 with five strikeouts against him in his career.

In fact, the Nationals hitters that have faced Lester hit just .224 against him as a group.

Despite the suddenly tilted odds of the series — the team that wins Game 1 wins the series 72 percent of the time — Nationals manager Dusty Baker suggested extra pressure doesn’t do any good. He kept the same lineup anticipating better results.

“Well, you know, there’s a fine line between urgency and panic, and the thing that you never want to do, you never want to panic,” Baker said. “You’ve heard me say, there’s always a way out.

“You know, I’ve been in almost all situations. I’ve been up two games and lost; been down two games with one to go and won. You know, you’ve got to win the first one, first. You’ve got to get back to one.

“Urgency or panic certainly doesn’t help the situation, you know. You have to be of the coolness of mind, but then bring desire to succeed in your heart, and then respond accordingly.”

Nationals

Turner SS

Harper RF

Rendon 3B

Murphy 2B

Zimmerman 1B

Werth LF

Wieters C

Taylor CF

Gonzalez P

Cubs

Almora CF

Bryant 3B

Rizzo 1B

Contreras C

Russell SS

Zobrist RF

Baez 2B

Happ LF

Lester P

 

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