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Harper heating up again

Harper heating up again

You know that prolonged slump Bryce Harper has been in for months now, the one that turned his much-ballyhooed rookie season into nothing more than a pedestrian campaign?

This just in: The kid is heating up again, and last night's two-homer performance during the Nationals' 8-4 victory in Miami was only the latest example.

Yep, over his last 11 games, Harper is hitting .293, slugging .610 and posting a .920 OPS that has suddenly turned him into a formidable threat at the plate again.

Sure, there have been some less-than-spectacular performances during that span. His golden sombrero last week against the Braves was certainly a low point. But as he displayed last night, Harper is always a threat to do something significant when he steps to the plate with bat in hand.

He's also a threat to do something that rubs someone the wrong way. That someone last night was first base umpire C.B. Bucknor, who ejected Harper after he threw his helmet to the ground upon hitting into a double play in the top of the ninth.

(By the way, was that the first-ever example of the Bryce Harper Hat Trick: two homers and an ejection? Or should that honor need to include one homer, one outfield assist and one ejection?)

Was Bucknor justified in giving the Harper the heave-ho? He didn't appear to be, unless the player said something directed at the umpire. It looked like Harper merely was upset at himself for grounding into that double play and spiked his helmet out of frustration, not a reaction to anything Bucknor did or said.

At the same time, Harper knows by now he's not being judged like any other rookie in the big leagues. His reputation precedes him, fair or unfair, and he's probably being held to a higher standard than anyone else in the sport.

It's unfortunate, but it's reality. And the sooner Harper accepts that, the better off he and the Nationals will be.

Look, he may go through slumps at the plate. But he's still doing things few 19-year-olds have ever done in this sport. The only teenagers ever to hit more than Harper's 14 home runs: Tony Conigliaro (24), Mel Ott (18) and Ken Griffey Jr. (16). He's scored more runs (69) than any teenager since 1940 and legged out more triples (six) than any since 1936.

Harper has made significant contributions to a Nationals club that has sat in first place nearly every day since he arrived, and this team is going to continue to need his contributions down the stretch.

If he can keep driving the ball the way he has over the last two weeks, and if he can keep his emotions in check, Harper will wind up playing as big a role on a pennant contender as any teenager since Mickey Mantle with the 1951 Yankees.

That's no small feat.

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Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pinch-hitter Jayson Werth hit a tying two-run homer, Chris Heisey drove in the go-ahead run, and the Washington Nationals scored five runs off former teammate Felipe Rivero in the eighth inning to rally past the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-7 on Sunday.

Clint Robinson added an RBI single and Pedro Severino drew a bases-loaded walk in the inning. Rivero (1-5) had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 25 innings since being traded to the Pirates.

Jung Ho Kang hit a two-run homer off Koda Glover to give the Pirates the lead in the bottom of the seventh, but Glover (3-0) got the win with the Nationals' offensive outburst the following half inning.

Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save.

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Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

With the division title clinched the night before, it seemed the Nationals were poised for an uneventful series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. 

That wasn't to be, as the two clubs engaged in a benches clearing altercation in the bottom of the third inning. The tension started in the top of the frame, when Bryce Harper was injured while sliding to third base on a triple. The Nats took exception to Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang faking a tag on Harper, which may have led to the injury. 

So when Nats starter A.J. Cole threw behind Kang in the bottom of the inning, the near-fracas was ignited.

Cole was immediately ejected from the game, benches cleared, and each side exchanged words. The Pirates' Sean Rodriguez was also ejected from the game.