Nationals enjoy their All-Star experience

Nationals enjoy their All-Star experience
July 17, 2013, 1:15 am
Share This Post

What did Bryce Harper take away from the All-Star Game?

NEW YORK — Years from now, when they reminisce about the 84th All-Star Game, Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmermann probably won't remember the outcome, an uninspired 3-0 American League victory over the National League.

No, the Nationals' two All-Star representatives won't remember the score, but they will remember the important vignettes from the last two nights at Citi Field. The player introductions. The Home Run Derby. The camaraderie in the dugout and the clubhouse with fellow All-Stars.

And, of course, Mariano Rivera.

"I had a blast hanging out with the guys," Harper said. "It was a great experience."

The actual Midsummer Classic was devoid of much in-game drama. The AL scratched out three runs. The NL scratched out three hits and was shut out for only the third time in this event's history.

But Rivera's entrance in the bottom of the eighth inning — with a sellout crowd of 45,186 and both dugouts standing and applauding the retiring Yankees closer in his final All-Star appearance — made up for everything else. Tipping his cap to the masses, Rivera began his warm-up tosses without any teammates on the field behind him. He then retired the side with ease, winding up as the game's sentimental MVP.

"It was amazing," Rivera said. "It almost made me cry, too. I was close. It was amazing, a scene that I will never forget."

Harper and Zimmermann soaked in that scene as well, making up for an uneventful night for both Nationals All-Stars. Zimmermann, a first-time selection, sat out the game with a stiff neck but enjoyed watching it all from the NL dugout. Harper, a second-time selection and first-time starter, went 0-for-2 and played six innings in the outfield before departing.

Not that anybody in the NL lineup had much success on this night, but Harper faced particularly tough matchups against White Sox lefty Chris Sale and Athletics closer Grant Balfour.

His third-inning encounter with Sale did not make for an enjoyable experience. Harper managed to lay off a couple of nasty sliders from the 6-foot-6 left-hander, then actually made solid contact on a 2-2 fastball, lining the ball right at third baseman Miguel Cabrera.

"I was just trying to lay off the slider," Harper said. "I knew I couldn't hit it. So I was just trying to lay off that and get something straight and put some good wood on it. It felt good."

Three innings later, Harper faced Balfour and got jammed on an 0-1 fastball, looping a soft liner to shortstop to complete his evening.

Zimmermann observed it all from the front row of the dugout, enjoying his one actual All-Star moment before the game when he was introduced alongside his NL teammates. The usually stoic right-hander even cracked a smile when his name was called over the PA system.

"Well, yeah," he said. "I was happy."

Zimmermann's only regret: That he didn't get a chance to appear in the game. He'll have to hope to return in the future to cross that milestone off the list.

"Once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said of his entire All-Star experience. "I'm happy I came. I wish I could've pitched, but it's indescribable. It's something I've always wanted to do. Hopefully I can make it back here another time."

There's little doubt Harper will be back numerous times. Perhaps he'll win the Home Run Derby someday, besting his runner-up finish on Monday. And perhaps he'll deliver the key hit that sparks the NL to victory.

It didn't happen this week. But that didn't detract from the experience.

"Being able to hang out with the best players in baseball is always a blast," Harper said. "I'm looking forward to a couple more All-Star Games."