Harper, Nationals humbled by Yankees
WASHINGTON -- Baseball is a humbling game, Bryce Harper said on Sunday when he addressed the media after his toughest weekend as a Major Leaguer had finally ended.It was humbling for the 19-year-old center fielder and even tougher for the young Nationals, who are only eight years into their Washington existence and were swept by the Yankees in front of a combined three-game crowd of 124,135 at Nationals Park. "Baseball is a humbling game," he said. "It's a game that I love to play, and there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to forget it. It's behind you. It's going to happen again in my career, hopefully not any time soon. You just have to take the good with the bad." Harper had a nice bounce-back day on Sunday. He went 2-for-4 following his 0-for-7, five-strikeout performance on Saturday. But the Yanks won again, 4-1, showing the youthful Nationals just how far they still have to go. "It's not October yet, that's how you have to look at it," Harper said. "We still have a long season and a lot of games left." The Yankees swept through the National League East and have now won nine consecutive Interleague games. Overall, they have won 14 out of their past 16. Washington dropped these three to the Yanks by a combined score of 16-6 after having won six in a row on the road against American League East foes Boston and Toronto. The Yankees are a different story, as manager Davey Johnson pointed out. "They're a little hard to match up against," he said. "They have a lot of power. Guys can hit for average. When you try to create matachups for your 'pen, it's a little tougher. [Curtis] Granderson is hitting just about everything you throw up there. Their left-handed hitters aren't necessarily susceptible to left-handed pitching. So it's a tough lineup." New York's pitching is no different. The lefty-swinging Harper had bundles of trouble with every pitcher he faced during Saturday's 14-inning, 5-3 loss, beginning with three swinging whiffs against veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte. He swung at pitches in the dirt and pitches just off the outside of the plate. He faced 22 of them on the day and laid wood on only two. Later in the game, Harper was clearly frustrated. When he was called out on a strike from left-handed reliever Clay Rapada in the 10th inning that seemed a tad outside, Harper bounced the tip of his bat off the plate. After Freddy Garcia got him on a swinging strike in the dirt to end the 12th, Harper dropped his bat and slammed his helmet to the ground. Tim Timmons, Saturday's home-plate umpire didn't budge, but Johnson wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings.
Asked if he had spoken to Harper about his bad day, Johnson said: "We all spoke to him. We spoke to Harper and the umpires. We wanted to make sure that they knew it was just the frustration of the day building and he wasn't trying to show them up."Mission accomplished. There wasn't any carryover on Sunday. Against Yanks right-hander Ivan Nova, Harper cracked a third-inning double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field, and in the eighth, he hit a solid single to center. Both came with one out, but created no damage. The only run Nova gave up was on Adam LaRoche's 12th homer of the season. Johnson didn't want to discuss the substance of his talks with Harper, who also declined to comment on them. Suffice to say, it was a lesson learned. "All I know is I went 0-for-7 with five punches," Harper said. "It's just the game of baseball. I tried to do the best I could in the outfield. You just have to tip your cap to a veteran Hall of Famer on the bump." As far as the team is concerned, Johnson is looking for timelier hitting from everybody and better defense. On Saturday, the Yankees scored a run when second baseman Danny Espinosa couldn't make a clean pivot on a routine double play, and shortstop Ian Desmond followed by booting a ball for an error. On Sunday, New York's final run scored on a passed ball. The Nationals may be leading the NL East, but they're not yet the kind of team that can give extra outs and gift wrap runs for the Yankees. "I think it was a great experience for the ballclub," Johnson said about the weekend. "A full house, playing the Yankees. I mean, that's a quick way to get an education. I think we did all right. Harper bounced back. I kind of expected that. He's a pretty good hitter. It was nice to see him sting the ball. But we need to get some other guys swinging the bat. That's the issue."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.