When Bryce Harper came to the plate sans batting gloves for his third at-bat on Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, the move appeared to be his latest attempt to break out of his month-long slump. With the gloves on, he had struck out and weakly grounded out in his prior chances, so perhaps this was just another trick to try and get him out of his funk.
Cameras even caught Harper ripping his gloves in the dugout apart just before the plate appearance, so it was clear this was not an accident. But as he revealed after the game, while it was done intentionally, it wasn't for the reasons you'd think.
"Nah, it's just so people don't sell them on eBay to tell you the truth," Harper said afterward.
"I always cut the batting gloves up," he continued, "and [they] ripped on the top of the hand and [I] had the bat boy come in and give me another pair and put them on and ripped them again."
This glove is way too tight, you need to cut it. pic.twitter.com/pBIiYknqlF— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) May 27, 2016
Regardless of the motivations, going glove-less worked; Harper launched a mammoth home run to the third deck to tie the game, which marked his first long ball in nearly two weeks.
"I guess the baseball gods don't want me to wear the batting gloves right now," he quipped. "I went up and hit a homer and came back and cut 'em up just so guys don't come out of the trash can and grab 'em and sell 'em. It's happened before."
Alrighty then. Apparently people have been trying to auction off Harper memorabilia before he was able to put a stop to it. So if you're looking to sell some game-worn Harper batting gloves, it sounds like you won't be finding any in the trash cans near the Nats dugout.
Postgame analysis of the Nationals 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night:
How it happened: The two offenses were quieted for most of the early innings, with Cardinals rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz's solo home run proving to be the difference through 5 1/2 frames.
But that's when Bryce Harper chose an opportune time to break out of his four-game hitless streak. The Nats' right fielder hit a towering solo shot — his 12th on the season — to tie the game in the sixth. That was followed by another solo homer in the following inning, this time by Danny Espinosa, to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
In the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon came in and retired the side in order, sending the Nats home victors.
What it means: The Nats move to 29-19 after notching their fourth win against the Cards this season. The victory also marked the 1,700th of Dusty Baker's managerial career, which ranks 17th all-time. He's second in career wins among active skippers to San Francisco Giants' Bruce Bochy.
Joe Ross returns to form: Ross put together what was perhaps his best outing in nearly a month. He limited the Cardinals to one run on six hits over 7 innings, struck out four and issued one walk. Surprisingly, Ross' ERA now sits at 2.52, which leads the Nats rotation.
After day off, Harper goes yard: In his first two at-bats against Leake, it appeared that Harper's month-long slump would continue for another night. He struck out in the first inning after being ahead 3-0 in the count, then weakly tapped a grounder to second base in the fourth. But the third time was the charm for the reigning NL MVP, who launched a majestic 434 foot-bomb to the third deck in right field. Who knows if this means Harper's finally out of his funk, but it's a start.
Up next: The second of this four-game set between these two clubs takes place Friday night at 7:05 p.m. The Nats will lean on Max Scherzer (5-3, 3.80 ERA), while the Cardinals will send lefty Jaime Garcia (3-4, 3.59 ERA) to the bump.
Amid a torrid start to his season, Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy will be given the night off by manager Dusty Baker for Thursday's series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 31-year-old Murphy — a revelation since he signed with the Nats in January at three years, $37.5 million — leads the majors with a .394 batting average and is second with a 1.043 on-base plus slugging mark.
"He's been more than I think anybody dreamed that he would be," Baker said before Thursday's game.
Even more amazing is that Murphy wasn't even the Nats' first option during baseball''s Hot Stove season. Baker mentioned that Washington's original target at that spot was Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who was nearly traded to D.C. were it not for the team's reluctance to extend the veteran's contract. The Nats were also reportedly in on Ben Zobrist, who signed with the Chicago Cubs at four years, $56 million.
Given the early returns, suffice it say that Murphy is undoubtedly one of the best bargains of the offseason.
"I'm glad we got Daniel Murphy," Baker said. "Big time....I don't think we could have done much better with a player [in free agency] than Murphy."
Mostly known as a good-but-not-great hitter throughout most of his seven-year tenure with the New York Mets, Murphy showed signs of a breakout during the latter part of 2015 after he altered his batting stance. Per a suggestion from Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, Murphy went to more of a crouch and crept up on the plate a little more. The tweak allowed him to pull the ball more and leverage his knack for making contact, which created a power stroke that hasn't dissipated since.
The change, while crucial to Murphy's impressive season, is also part of the reason he'll be monitored from time to time. But that's something Baker and the Nats are more than willing to accommodate him on — especially if he keeps putting up these kinds of numbers.
"We [have] to watch him to keep his legs strong because he's always in a squat," Baker said. "So [the time off] is a day to get his legs worked on and get everything back strong 'till the next day off."