Harper leads Nationals as eight teams come from behind to win
By Richard Justice
This was baseball at its insane, entertaining, thrilling best on Sunday. This was a day when leads slipped away, were grabbed back, then slipped away again. If you didn't know this was April, you'd swear it was October with teams punching and counter-punching as if an entire season was riding on the outcome.
There were eight comeback wins. In six games, the deciding run was scored in the eighth inning or later. Three games went into extra innings. In short, this is just about as good as it gets. Seems like we've written that three or four times already this season.
This was a day for Bryce Harper to deliver another you-won't-believe-what-he-did-this-time moment as the Nationals rallied to beat the Twins, 6-5, in 16 innings. Colby Rasmus did the same for the Astros, hitting a game-tying two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Heroes? How about Nats reliever Oliver Perez. He had a huge day, but not in the way you would expect. In Perez's first plate appearance in six years, he laid down a bunt in the bottom of the 15th inning and beat out a bad throw to bring home the tying run.
There was a long list of others on this day when benches were emptied and patience was tested. The D-backs ran out of position players and used pitcher Shelby Miller in left field. Not to be outdone in that same game, the Pirates got a run-scoring pinch-hit single from pitcher Jonathon Niese in the 13th inning.
Maybe insane is the new normal. Three weeks into a new season, that's how it feels. Just when you thought you'd seen the craziest thing ever, there'd be another wild moment.
The Bucs and D-backs went at it for 13 innings and just shy of 5 1/2 hours. Arizona forced extra innings by scoring two runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth.
Pittsburgh was one out from winning in the bottom of the ninth when Paul Goldschmidt's two-run home run tied it. Both teams scored a pair of runs in the 12th until the Pirates won it, 12-10, an inning later.
When it ended, the Bucs were both exhausted and proud.
"It was a game that we just had to keep playing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Proud of our guys. They kept playing."
The Dodgers had a 7-1 lead in Colorado. Then the Rockies scored five in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 10-7 lead in the ninth. Guess what happened? Yep, the Dodgers clawed back with five of their own in the top of the ninth to win, 12-10.
"Give credit to our guys," Chase Utley said. "We battled in the ninth inning."
About a thousand miles southeast of Denver and six hours later, the wildness of the day was capped off by Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting a go-ahead single to put Boston ahead of Houston, 6-5, en route to a 7-5 win in 12 innings, which helped ease the pain for Red Sox nation after Craig Kimbrel's surprising blown save.
But the craziness of Sunday really began in Washington, where the Nationals forced extra innings of a five-hour, 56-minute marathon with a home run run in the ninth inning, and guess who delivered that one?
Harper had been given the day off by manager Dusty Baker. But with the Nats trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth, Baker sent Harper up as a pinch-hitter against Twins reliever Kevin Jepsen.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, after fouling off three pitches, Harper sent a full-count fastball soaring over the right-center-field wall to tie the game. Among all the impressive Harper numbers -- he has as many home runs as strikeouts (nine) -- is this one: When the count is full this season, he's 4-for-7 (.571) with three home runs.
"I didn't want to put Harp out there and be tempted to go against my word [about getting a day off]," Baker said. "I told him that before the game started: 'Wait for a time so the fans can go crazy and you can be the hero, and then I'll take you out.' I'm not always right, but I was right today."
The Nationals finally won it on Chris Heisey's walk-off homer to put the finishing touch on a game in which 38 players were used, and 14 pitchers threw 516 pitches.
"I feel like I just came out of the twilight zone," Baker said. "Man, that was some game. That was a roller-coaster game of emotions."
These are victories that can start a tidal wave of momentum and good vibes. There are defeats and then there are defeats that linger in the hearts and minds. That's the challenge for a few clubs.
Let's not forget the larger message. Somewhere amid the wild comebacks and insane individual performances, these were teams -- and a sport -- that did themselves proud in fighting until the last out.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.