There's just something about the way Bryce Harper plays baseball that makes his every move on the field worth watching.
Oh, wait, I just figured out what that something is. It's the fact that regardless of situation or score, the 19-year-old phenom is always looking for an opening and an opportunity to change a game with his hustle and aggression, whether it be in the outfield or on the basepaths, and more times than not succeeds in spectacular fashion.
That desire to make an impact was on full display again on Thursday night as the Washington Nationals completed their four-game dismantling of the Chicago Cubs with a 9-2 win.
In the very first inning, Harper visited the left center-field gap at Nationals Park and hustled out his seventh triple of the year, making him the first teenager since Buddy Lewis of the Washington Senators back in 1936 to reach that number in a single season. That's a very cool achievement, but it would be quickly overshadowed just one batter later as Ryan Zimmerman hit a soft two-hopper back to the pitcher.
Now, unless the bases are loaded or a special play has been called from the bench, a comebacker will usually freeze the runner on third. That was also the case here with Harper. But unlike most runners you'll see in that situation, Harper didn't immediately retreat to the base. He simply bided his time, measured the situation and then broke for the plate as the throw to first was made. That paid off for Washington as Harper beat the return throw home to score its first run:
He almost made the theft look easy, which we all know is far from the truth. But he wasn't satisfied there. One inning later, he would hit a shallow fly ball to Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriaro that clanked off his glove. Of course Harper ended up turning that into a two-base error. And then in the fourth, Harper would reach via an infield single and scored again to help the Nats assume full command.
Hustle, instincts and fearlessness. That would sum up Harper's game-stealing performance up to that point.
And then when tempers flared in the sixth inning, it should come as no surprise that Harper was the Nationals' player right in the middle of it all. The incident actually began simmering one inning earlier when Chicago's bench coach Jamie Quirk and Washington's third base coach Bo Porter exchanged words, which led to the benches clearing and ultimately Quirk's ejection.
The Cubs obviously weren't pleased with the confrontation or the fact only their coach got the gate, so Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo seemingly sent a message to Harper with a fastball at his knees. Harper responded by taking a few steps towards the mound, which may not have been the smartest thing big picture, but at least his message was clear — he's not interested in wearing messages from opposing pitchers.
"I'd be pretty ticked off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all week too," Harper said.
Unfortunately, though, with his personality, style of play and level of talent, he'll have to get used to it. And if there's one obvious thing Harper will have to change about his approach to the game, it'll be how he handles those situations without hurting himself or potentially hurting the team.
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