It took until the seventh inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series between the Cardinals and Nationals for rookie Bryce Harper finally to reach base. When he did -- as always -- things got interesting.
Harper notched his first hit on what appeared to be a routine single toward right-center field. But when it took Jon Jay a little longer than expected to get to the ball, Harper took off and made it to second. That hustle put runners at second and third with none out in an 8-3 game. Not over yet.
That is until Jayson Werth scored from third on a sacrifice fly by teammate Ryan Zimmerman. When left fielder Matt Holliday gunned his throw back to the infield into the grass maybe 10 feet in front of his position -- a comically embarrassing play -- Harper waited a beat too long to take off for third base. St. Louis second baseman Daniel Descalso was in the right spot at the right time. He picked up the loose ball and fired to third in plenty of time to get Harper. Hustle giveth, and hustle taketh away.
It kind of sums up Harper's series so far. He was suffering from strep throat and a fever over the weekend and needed to take antibiotics to ease his symptoms. He didn't reach base in any of his first eight at-bats of the series, though he wasn't overmatched, either. Harper has seen six pitches or more in six of 10 plate appearances. Four times he has seen seven or more. His approach against the Cardinals appears OK.
But ultimately Harper also has succumbed to four breaking balls on strikeouts, a fifth on a 93 mph fastball from Lance Lynn and yet another on a fastball from Trevor Rosenthal that hit 100. Six strikeouts are a problem. Harper was robbed, too, by Descalso in the seventh inning of Game 1 on a grounder that appeared ticketed for right field. His other outs were a routine grounder to second and a fly ball to left. But the Nats need more from their dynamic rookie if the top of the order is to produce as they hope.
It's a lot to ask of any normal teenager. But Harper has proved time and again he isn't normal.
- Brian McNally