It didn't take long — nine innings, in fact —for Bryce Harper to be every bit the Bryce Harper he can be in his return to the Washington Nationals lineup.
The team's 21-year-old star outfielder, who often has a flair for the dramatic, played his first game since late April because of a torn ligament in his thumb. He had a single and an RBI in the Nats' 7-3 win over the Colorado Rockies. But this is Bryce Harper we're talking about, so much more happened:
He questioned the lineup before first pitch, further adding to the perceived rift between he and manager Matt Williams. He got a huge ovation from the crowd when he came up to bat for the first time. He made a nice throw to first base from shallow left field trying to nail a runner in the first inning. He lost his helmet a couple of times while running the bases, exposing that big hair of head that looked so pristine on the bobblehead that was given away Monday night.
And Harper capped the night with a big boast in front of the hometown fans at Nationals Park:
"We're the best team in baseball," Harper tells the crowd in on-field interview.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) July 1, 2014
There are two ways to interpret this:
• Harper is such a smug young brat that he thinks his return to the lineup makes the Nats the best team in baseball, despite the fact that they trail the Braves by a half-game in the NL East standings. (The Stew doesn't believe this, but some folks certainly will).
• Harper is going for the cheap, harmless rah-rah moment in front of the hometown crowd that was obviously so happy to see him return. (Bingo!) It's like when a touring rock band tells every city they have the best, loudest crowd.
Are the Nats the best team in baseball? They have the best team ERA in MLB at the moment, but other than that, there aren't many metrics or power rankings that agree with Harper. They're the fifth best team in the NL by winning percentage and ninth best league-wide.
They're good, sure. And with Harper back and the starting lineup healthy again for the first time since opening day, the Nats have a good chance to win the NL East and/or get into the playoffs as a wild card. They have the potential to be the "best team in baseball" at season's end, but for now that's just hyperbole from a jacked-up 21-year-old.
And that's OK, because 21-year-olds are the most hyperbole-prone people ever.
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