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Harper hustles home with Nats' game-winner

The SportsXchange

SAN FRANCISCO -- Washington Nationals trainer Lee Kuntz approached Davey Johnson in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game Wednesday, informing the manager that Bryce Harper's left knee was sore.

Down to one available substitute and badly needing to avoid a series sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, Johnson did what any veteran manager would do when a superstar is involved: He sought a second opinion.

Johnson met briefly with Harper in the dugout, became convinced his star could stay in the game, then watched as the second-year standout hustled home from second base on Ian Desmond's one-out single in the 10th inning to score the winning run in a 2-1 victory at AT&T Park.

"Harper is obviously not 100 percent, but he gutted it out for us," Desmond said. "Running into a wall is never fun. People on the outside don't understand what type of mental hurdle that is. We appreciate him putting it out there on the line for us."

When last seen at AT&T Park late Tuesday night, Harper was taking full responsibility for getting "alligator arms" on Gregor Blanco's game-tying triple near the right field fence in the ninth inning of what turned out to be a 4-2, 10-inning win for the Giants. He said he was disappointed in himself and vowed he wouldn't change his Pete Rose-type style, even after suffering knee, sternum, neck and chin injuries in his face-first crash into the Dodger Stadium fence May 13.

On Wednesday, Harper delivered on that promise, homering for his team's first run, doubling to set up Desmond's game-winner and making two great plays in the field, one a diving catch in shallow right field that probably saved the game and one lunging grab eerily close to the spot of Tuesday's mishap.

"That was huge for us," Harper said of the diving catch, which came immediately after Buster Posey singled in Angel Pagan with one out in the eighth inning to tie the game at 1. "Getting that last win on a (10-)game trip, that's good for us. I'm excited to get back to D.C. and get a day off and not do anything."

The Nationals wound up 4-6 on their travels to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

Harper got the game-winning uprising going with a one-out double to right field against the sixth Giants pitcher, left-hander Jeremy Affeldt (1-1).

After Ryan Zimmerman was intentionally walked, Desmond sliced a single to right, and the speedy Harper slid home easily ahead of Hunter Pence's throw.

"Bruce Bochy is a great manager," Desmond said of the Giants' skipper, who opted to face the Nationals' cleanup hitter rather than Zimmerman. "Numbers might have indicated what I was going to do, but I was 100 percent confident I could come through."

Washington closer Rafael Soriano, who blew a lead in Tuesday's loss, recorded his 13th save with a 1-2-3 last of the 10th, ending the Giants' five-game home winning streak. He got Marco Scutaro to fly out to the warning track in left field to end the game. Scutaro finished 0-for-3, ending his 19-game hitting streak.

Tyler Clippard (3-1) retired the Giants in order in the ninth to force extra innings.

"This is a good road trip to get through," Johnson said. "I'm glad to be going home."

Harper's homer, his 12th of the season, led off the Washington sixth after Giants starter Madison Bumgarner shut out the Nationals on three hits through five innings. It was Harper's second homer in five games since the Dodger Stadium collision, which caused him to sit out the start of four of the next five contests.

The home run was the Nationals' first in the three-game set, allowing them to extend a streak in which they've belted at least one homer in 71 consecutive series. That matches the all-time franchise record set by the then-Montreal Expos in 1998-99.

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez pitched 7 1/3 innings, leaving after issuing his second walk of the game. Right-hander Drew Storen walked the first batter he faced, Scutaro, before surrendering the game-tying single to left field by Posey.

It took two defensive gems in order for the Nationals to retain the tie. After Harper's diving catch on Pence's sinking liner recorded a second out in the inning, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche lunged to his right to short-hop a liner by pinch hitter Brandon Belt, forcing out Posey at second to end the inning.

"Give the kid credit," Bochy said of Harper. "He was frustrated, but he bounced back and had a nice game."

Bumgarner went seven innings, giving up the one run on four hits. He struck out five and walked two.

NOTES: Harper met privately with Soriano before the game to iron out their differences over comments Soriano made about Harper's positioning on Blanco's triple Tuesday night. "I told him I was upset, but there are no enemies here," said Soriano, who suffered his second consecutive blown save because of the hit. "What happened, happened. Let's move on." ... At age 20 years and 218 days, Harper became the second-youngest player to homer at AT&T Park. Miguel Cabrera was 20 years and 128 days old when he first homered at AT&T in 2003. ... The Giants were looking for their fifth series sweep of the young season. They've also already been swept three times. ... After a travel day Thursday, the Nationals open a five-game homestand Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies, with RHP Jordan Zimmermann seeking his eighth win. ... The Giants also have Thursday off. Their six-game homestand continues Friday against Colorado in a rematch of a Tim Lincecum-Tyler Chatwood pitching matchup that resulted in a 10-2 Rockies win Saturday night. ... Belt (sore back) and Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval (sick) were held out of the starting lineup. They made late-game, pinch-hitting appearances and are expected back in the starting lineup Friday. ... Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti will be inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in ceremonies Thursday. Righetti, a left-handed pitcher who grew up in San Jose, pitched 16 major league seasons.
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