WASHINGTON — The game was already in hand when Bryce Harper dropped the mic.
Facing former two-time Phillies opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson in the eighth inning Tuesday night, Harper tattooed another baseball, this time going 458 feet out to the second deck in right-center field.
It was Harper's third straight game with a home run and he now owns the two farthest-hit balls in the National League in this young season: 465 feet on Saturday, 458 feet Tuesday night in D.C. in the Phillies' 8-2 win (see observations).
The timing was as storybook as the last six weeks have been for the Phillies. Yes, it's four games into the season. But the potential of this team and the energy Harper has infused is hard to overlook. Scoring eight runs per game isn't sustainable, but the Phillies are too talented an offensive bunch to crash hard back to Earth and stay there.
This was Harper's first game back in D.C. if you hadn't heard. He's no stranger to attention but it was ratcheted up even more than usual on this day. At 3 p.m., Harper spoke to a media room that went about 50-deep. It was a who's who later in the press box: Bob Costas, John Smoltz, Tom Verducci, Buster Olney, Chris Russo, David Aldridge. Everyone wants to catch a piece of Bryce.
Harper's night started quietly, aside from the intense boos he received in the on-deck circle, in the batter's box and any time a ball was hit his way. Early on, the boos outweighed the contingent of 500 Phillies fans in right field and the many more spread throughout the stadium.
"Heard the boos. I just try to remember that I've got 45,000 people in the city of Philadelphia and more that were screaming and watching their TV cheering," he said. "I respect them so much. I understand the game and understand the fan and player interactions. Being able to have them back at home knowing they're cheering and screaming at me through the TV and also having the huge section in right field really fired me up."
Harper struck out swinging in each of his first two plate appearances against three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, causing the only two cheers of the game from Nats fans.
In his third plate appearance, Harper evened the score against Scherzer, doubling down the right-field line.
"He threw me a 2-2 changeup, nasty," Harper recalled. "Then he threw me a 3-2 cutter, also nasty. I knew going up there in that third at-bat that I've got to get a knock because this guy is gonna text me and wear me out."
A few innings later ... well, Harper unloaded.
Even before the home run, Nationals Park had thinned out and Phillies fans had taken over (see story). There were chants of "MVP" and "WE GOT HARPER," clap-clap, clap clap clap.
Standing on second base after the double, Harper looked out at Phillies fans in right-center and pumped his fist at them. When he went out to the field the next half-inning, he did this:
"I was just trying to make sure it was all Philly fans in that section," Harper said.
Through four games, Harper is 6 for 14 (.429) with two doubles, three homers, five RBI and four walks. The Phillies, as a team, have a .391 on-base percentage.
He'll get booed Wednesday, he'll get booed when the Phillies come back here in June, he'll get booed the final week of the season when these teams may be competing for the NL East title, and he'll get booed in D.C. for the majority of this 13-year contract.
This first game back was new for him, but playing the role of the villain is not.
"I have the city of Philadelphia behind me each and every night," Harper said. "And if I have that, nothing else matters to me."
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