By Morris Phillips
WASHINGTON D.C. — Was this Bryce Harper’s swan song, or just another big moment in his continuing career with the Washington Nationals?
It’s difficult to say. But one thing’s certain: the moment lasted 50 seconds and it included nine home runs, each one electricifying Nationals Park and the team’s fans.
An obviously fatigued Harper finished the T-Mobile Home Run Derby with an adrenaline rush, catching finalist Kyle Schwarber with the last of the nine as the horn signaled that his time had expired. Then having earned the 30 seconds of bonus time, Harper delivered the contest winner on his final swing.
Harper then tossed his bat, and was handed the winner’s trophy as his National League teammates surrounded him.
“I was fortunate to share that and show that to the fans,” Harper said. “That wasn’t only for me and my family and everybody like that, but this is for the cook, the guy who that works the front and the people that work upstairs.
“I mean, this is [for] the whole city of D.C. I was very fortunate to be able to bring this back to them and do it here.”
Harper was joined by his father Ron, his pitcher for the evening, and his partner in previous Derbies. After raising the trophy above his head, Harper quickly passed the prize to Ron.
“I love this man, he’s my hero. To be able to do that with tonight, that’s a dream come true,” Harper said.
Both Harpers struggled down the stretch of the competition. On a hot, muggy night with temperatures above 80 degrees, Bryce Harper made good use of his timeouts, and down time by hanging in the clubhouse and adjacent batting cage. Still, through the first two minutes of the final round, Harper appeared gassed without enough in his tank to overtake Schwarber.
At the same time, Ron Harper struggled to get the ball over the plate, at one point failing to get his son to offer at three, consecutive pitches. But then, after a final timeout, everything came together with Harper depositing nine balls beyond the outfield wall in his final ten swings.
The crowd of 43,698 followed suit, roaring with each successive swing. During the brief break before the 30-second, bonus period awarded for the length of his home runs, the crowd kept it up. Then on his second swing, Harper delivered the competition winner.
“For him to come in and do that–it was getting close to the wire–then all of a sudden, he started racking them of one at a time. You just accept your fate there,” Schwarber conceded.
“We have some of the best fans in all of baseball, and to be able to do that with my family out there, that’s an incredible moment, not only for me but for the organization and the Nationals fans. I’m very blessed and humbled.”
Harper became the third slugger to win the competition in his home ballpark following Todd Frazier for the Reds in 2015, and Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs in 1990.
Harper bested the Braves’ Freddy Freeman in the first round, and the Dodgers’ Max Muncy in the semifinals. Muncy pulled the upset over the Cubs’ Javier Baez in the opening round, before falling short 13-12 to Harper in the semis.
“You can’t really feel your hands. Your forearms are really tight, so you’re not sure if you’re gripping the bat or if it’s falling out of your hands. Your legs are really sore. You just get exhausted,” Muncy said.