Harper cherishing possible last Nats home game


5:16 PM ETEddie MatzESPN Senior Writer CloseEddie Matz covers the Washington Nationals and the world of Major League Baseball for ESPN.com. He’s been writing for ESPN since 2002, and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.WASHINGTON — Three and a half hours before the first pitch, Bryce Harper was the only one in full uniform for what could be his final home game at Nationals Park.”It’s definitely crazy walking in today and knowing this could be my last game at Nats Park in my white jersey,” said Harper, whose Washington Nationals hosted the Miami Marlins on Wednesday in what could be the slugger’s final home game with Washington.Harper was greeted by a standing ovation in his first at-bat, which ended with a flyout to left field.”It’s definitely something that you’re not sure how you’re going to react, and not sure what it’s going to be like, if that’s after the game, or even before,” he added before the game. “I knew I wanted to get here and put the uni on right away and just cherish that moment, if it’s going to be the last time or not.”Harper finally hits 100 RBIs for first time in careerA sacrifice fly to left gave the Washington Nationals slugger the first 100-RBI season of his seven-year career.Unlike in four of the previous six seasons since Harper debuted, including each of the past two, there won’t be any postseason games for the Nationals, home or away. Expected to repeat as National League East champions and vie for a World Series title, Washington was officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend.”It’s not something you want to go through,” Harper said of his club’s disappointing campaign. “You have all the hopes and aspirations to be one of the best teams in baseball in spring training. We did what we could to possibly get there, but we didn’t do enough. We’ve seen a lot of young talent come up and do a great job, so that’s definitely a lot of fun to see. It’s just something that happens. It’s part of baseball. Sometimes you’re going to win, and sometimes you’re going to lose.”As the losses mounted during the first half of the season, and despite numerous injuries to key players, much of the blame fell on Harper and his offensive struggles. At the All-Star break, the 25-year-old outfielder had 23 homers and 54 RBIs but was hitting just .214 with 102 strikeouts.Following a dramatic Home Run Derby victory in front of his hometown fans in D.C., Harper proceeded to turn things around. Entering play on Wednesday, he was hitting .298 since the break and had posted a .985 OPS that’s more than 150 points higher than his first-half mark. On Monday against Miami, he collected his 100th RBI of the season, the first time in his career that he has reached triple digits.”I just stuck with the plan,” the six-time All-Star said of his strong finish. “Never worried. Never got down or anything like that. Broke a few helmets, broke a few bats, but that’s part of it. Just tried to grind the best I could and had a lot of great teammates around me and plugging me along. Never gave up. Having a great manager in there that saw things happen every single day and really had the faith in all of us to pull forward, and just tried to do that every single day for him and this team.”Whichever team Harper signs with in free agency, he’s expected to challenge Giancarlo Stanton’s record for the largest contract in MLB history, a $325 million deal handed out by the Marlins after the 2014 season. In the meantime, the former MVP plans on soaking up the atmosphere in what could be his swan song at Nats Park.”You never know what’s going to happen,” Harper said, “so I’m going to take it today and just enjoy it. Enjoy running out to right field — I think that’s where I’m playing — but enjoy running out there and see what happens. I enjoy putting the W on my chest every single day. And I have since the beginning. It’s like I’m standing here like a 35-year-old, but I’m only 25.”So it’s my first time going through something like this, of course. I’ve never done it in my life, possibly playing my last game somewhere, anything like that, and it really meaning something to me. This is my home. This is my city. Being able to come here — of course, I root for the Golden Knights and I root for Duke and I root for the Cowboys and things like that — but I’m a Washington National. At the end of the day, I love this city. I enjoy coming here, I enjoy playing here, and that’s what it’s all about. I enjoy being happy and walking into this clubhouse and walking onto that field every single day. We’ve got some of the best fans in all of baseball.”Following their series finale against the Marlins on Wednesday, Harper and the Nationals travel to Colorado for a season-ending three-game series with the Rockies.

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