Aug 7, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Whether there was any validity to the story or not, Bryce Harper once again found his name carried through the mud in the national media this week. He was slumping, yes, but a stint in the minors? Come on.
His manager, Matt Williams, technically the spark that produced the controversy in an interview with 106.7 The Fan, was direct in shutting it down on Wednesday. He came out in defense of his star player, a 21-year-old with whom he’s already had his fair share of moments with as a rookie MLB manager.
Harper stood quiet throughout the next 24 hours, even as the debate of how to fix his swing dominated ESPN and MLB Network’s nightly talk shows. He bottled it in and responded by blasting a walk-off home run in the 13th inning of the Nationals’ 5-3 win over the Mets on Thursday.
The pitch was a 91 mile per hour fastball by Carlos Torres, just over the outside edge of the plate: exactly what the two-time All-Star was hunting for.
“I was just trying to barrel something,” Harper said. “It got to the point where I was just trying to get something out over and try to punish it. I got a pitch that I could drive and I was happy with the result.”
Harper had already been presented two chances to put the Mets to sleep on Thursday. He struck out swinging in the bottom of the ninth and singled in the 11th, only to see Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Lobaton retired right behind him.
Harper finished the day 2-for-6 after starting it 0-for-3. The final hit was the big one, of course, and Harper knew he had it right away.
“I knew it was gone, I felt it,” he said. “It was a ball that was outside that I hit pretty well. Torres got me last night on a curveball down and in, so I didn’t think I was really going to see anything over the dish. He’s got a pretty good cutter. All I was thinking was to try and hit a ball over left-center and try to win the ballgame.”
Can one swing bust a slump? Harper sure hopes so. The Nats’ outfielder was 4-for-27 (.148) in his previous eight games.
“I’ve gotta keep battling, keep grinding and keep coming in trying to work hard,” he said.
“Get my swing back where it needs to be. Hopefully in the next month and a half I can get it going. Everybody’s been picking up my slack pretty much. Everybody’s been swinging the bat well. Hopefully I can get it going.”
It was the Nats’ first win this season that came on a walk-off home run, and the second of Harper’s career. This one earned him not one, but two Gatorade baths from teammate Ian Desmond. Harper just happens to be a spokesman for the energy drink.
“I think Gatorade’s going to be pretty happy about that,” he said.
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