Running into that fence knocked some sense into Bryce Harper; he said doesn't want to do it again. There's only one problem: He still has to play the outfield. Harper found himself caught between making a catch and making sure of his own safety Tuesday night, and his indecision might have cost the Washington Nationals a ballgame.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Harper pulled up short in pursuit of a fly ball that fell in for a score-tying triple by Gregor Blanco. Closer Rafael Soriano had blown the save, and the San Francisco Giants won 4-2 in the 10th on a home run by Pablo Sandoval. A strong performance by Stephen Strasburg had meant nothing, the Nats fell to 23-23 on the season and the experience revealed that Harper has his confidence shaken.
Quoted by reporter Adam Kilgore in the Washington Post, Harper said:
“I don’t want to hit the frickin’ wall full-on,” Harper said. “Of course that crosses your mind after you jam into a wall. It doesn’t really feel very good. It [stinks] that I couldn’t make the play. I totally put that loss on me.”
Blanco's triple was an echo of another play Harper failed to make May 14, when he famously slammed face-first into the right-field fence at Dodger Stadium, dazing himself and needing 11 stitches to close a gash in his chin.
Many had wondered why Harper — who has displayed a sixth sense in other ways on the baseball field at age 20 — turned around so late after reaching the warning track, just before impact. A combination of inexperience and fearlessness was Harper's undoing. Well, now he has some experience. And he's afraid. It's a mental barrier Harper says he must overcome, or else.
Harper jarringly honest. Said he felt the wall and blamed himself for the loss. "It's something I got to get over," he said.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) May 22, 2013
Harper wasn't nearly as close to the fence this time at AT&T Park in San Francisco, but he was playing a tricky part of the ballpark in right-center field known as "Triples Alley" because of its depth and obnoxious angles. Instead of running full-speed into the padded brick fence, Harper lost track of where he was in a different way, pulling up just short of the warning track and turning his body as if to brace for impact — even though the fence was perhaps 10-15 feet away. As Kilgore writes, Harper is still feeling his way like any other human might. And he's hard on himself, too:
Harper said he needs to learn how to make that play, "or I'm going to be in Triple A. That's how I feel." — Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) May 22, 2013
Harper is not going to Triple-A. But he does have to figure out his biggest crisis, so far, as a major league ballplayer.