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Harper's debut spoiled by Kemp's blast

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Harper's debut spoiled by Kemp's blast

LOS ANGELES -- It was everything Bryce Harper dreamed it might be, and maybe even a little more than he ever imagined.

A raucous, sellout crowd in an iconic ballpark. A laser beam of a double off the base of the center-field wall for his first career hit. A perfect throw from left field to the plate for what should have been a crucial out. A well-executed sacrifice fly to drive in what would have been the game-winning run.

And then ... well, allow Harper to tell you what was going through his mind as he watched Dodgers All-Star Matt Kemp launch the 10th-inning homer that sent the Nationals to a crushing, 4-3 loss late last night.

"That sucked," the 19-year-old said. "Seeing him hit a bomb, that was terrible."

What had all the makings of a banner night in Nationals history -- Harper went 1-for-3 with that double and an RBI, Stephen Strasburg tossed seven more brilliant innings and Henry Rodriguez was one strike away from wrapping up an epic victory -- came to a sudden and devastating conclusion.

When Rodriguez uncorked his third wild pitch of the ninth inning, and when Tom Gorzelanny served up that towering home run to Kemp in the bottom of the 10th, it was difficult to think about everything good that had transpired over the previous three hours. The sting of those final, frantic moments were too fresh in everyone's minds.

"But that just builds character," manager Davey Johnson said nearly an hour later sitting on a clubhouse sofa, legs propped up on a coffee table. "That was a heck of a game tonight."

Indeed it was. The calendar said it took place on April 28. The scene inside Dodger Stadium, and the emotions that emanated out of both dugouts, suggested this game took place six months later, with a whole lot more at stake.

Now, consider this all took place as the most-hyped pitching prospect in a generation stood on the mound and the most-hyped hitting prospect in a generation made his big-league debut in left field.

"It was a fun atmosphere," said Strasburg, who struck out nine without issuing a walk over seven innings of one-run ball. "I thought we showed up to play. We just couldn't get it done in the late innings."

Harper was not at all to blame for that. If anything, the 19-year-old might have displayed the most poise of anyone in a Nationals uniform during this epic ballgame.

"I didn't have butterflies at all, really," he said. "I think that's one of the first times I've ever not gotten butterflies."

With the crowd booing (and in one case, mooning) his every move, Harper looked perfectly comfortable playing in his first major-league game. The first half of his evening was nondescript, featuring a comebacker to the mound and a flyball to left in his first two at-bats. But he came up big in his biggest moments later in the game.

It began with Harper's first career hit: a two-out, two-strike double off the base of the wall in straightaway center field.

It then continued with a perfect throw from left field in the bottom of the seventh, a throw that beat Jerry Hairston to the plate but resulted in the run scoring when catcher Wilson Ramos couldn't hold onto the ball ... though that play was not without controversy. Johnson argued that Hairston intentionally swiped at Ramos' mitt, trying to knock the ball loose, which should have constituted interference.

Plate umpire Mark Carlson told Johnson he didn't see Hairston's move, but he wouldn't seek help from one of his other crew members who might have had a better view.

"He smacked the ball," Johnson said. "He's out. ... He can do whatever you want with the catcher. But you cannot move the ball, or you're out."

Hairston's questionable run left the game tied 1-1 heading into the ninth, but it also set the stage for Harper to be the hero when his sacrifice fly to medium left field easily scored Rick Ankiel with the go-ahead run. Ramos' RBI single moments later extended the lead to 3-1 and put the Nationals in prime position to pull off one of the most-impressive wins in club history.

The last three outs of a Major League Baseball game, though, are unlike any other outs in this sport. And even a pitcher armed with a 102-mph fastball and a devastating slider can succumb to the pressure sometimes.

So it was for Rodriguez, who to date had been brilliant in recording five saves but on this night melted under the hot lights. Rodriguez faced six batters, allowing hits to the first three, uncorking one wild pitch to advance a runner, then another to bring home the tying run, then another on a strikeout to prolong the inning and give the Dodgers a chance to win in regulation.

"I thought we were in good shape to get out of it, and a wild pitch killed us," Johnson said. "Henry pitched good, except he probably tried to overthrow that one pitch, and he threw it away. He's been great all spring, all year. I'm not worried about him."

Johnson did have to yank his closer with the game still up in the air in the ninth, turning to Gorzelanny to retire Tony Gwynn Jr. on a rocket line drive hit directly at first baseman Adam LaRoche.

The 69-year-old manager then stuck with Gorzelanny for the 10th inning, despite the fact the right-handed Kemp (who leads the majors in nearly every offensive category) was due to lead off. Johnson said he didn't want to use right-hander Ryan Mattheus or left-hander Sean Burnett for a third consecutive day, and he didn't want to burn up his other long reliever (Craig Stammen) and leave himself vulnerable in Sunday's series finale.

"At that point, I've got two left-handers coming up behind Kemp and I figured he was going to pitch him close there," Johnson said. "And he's my long man. I need another inning out of him. ... If you want to go ahead and throw the kitchen sink out there and have nothing left for tomorrow ... that's not a wise way to go about it."

Gorzelanny got ahead of Kemp, but left his 1-2 pitch over the plate and watched as the ball soared into the Hollywood night, a crushing conclusion to what had been shaping up as one of the best nights in Nationals history.

It'll still be remembered years from now as the night a 19-year-old phenom made his debut and lived up to the hype. In the heat of the moment, though, it was tough for Harper to contemplate what he had just experienced.

When will it all finally sink in?

"I don't know," Harper said. "I'm thinking the same thing. I was wondering the same thing: When will it sink in? When will I feel it? I think the next week or so it'll really sink in. I was sitting in the dugout before the game and I was thinking to myself: 'Wow, I'm in the big leagues.' But I'm just trying to take it one game at a time, one at-bat at a time and not get too overwhelmed with things. I'm trying to do the best I can with that."

On this night, Harper's best wasn't enough.

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Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday.

Eaton sustained the injury in Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Mets when he stepped awkwardly on the bag while beating out a throw to first in the ninth inning. He then collapsed and needed assistance off the field.

The Nationals initially announced earlier Saturday that Eaton would go on the 10-day disabled list with a left knee strain. They also have since called up outfielder Rafael Bautista from Triple-A Syracuse.

The Nationals acquired Eaton in a trade with the White Sox in December in exchange for pitching prospects Luca Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

The 28-year-old Eaton was hitting .297 with a .393 on-base percentage and 24 runs scored for the 16-8 Nationals.

Michael A. Taylor replaced Eaton in centerfield during the Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Mets on Saturday.

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Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

WASHINGTON -- The New York Mets wobbled into Nationals Park this weekend with a six-game losing streak, beset by injuries and lined up to face Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the team with the best record in the majors.

Two days later, things don't look quite so bleak.

Michael Conforto hit two home runs and slumping Jose Reyes also connected, leading the Mets over the Washington Nationals 5-3 Saturday.

"It feels great because they've got a great club and they're red-hot," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

"When you face arguably two of the best pitchers in the game two days in a row and come out with two wins, that's huge for us," he said.

After being swept at home by the Nationals last weekend the Mets have a chance to flip the script on Sunday and even the season series at three games apiece. Even though it's still April, the importance of this series wasn't lost on the Mets skipper.

"We know we've got a long track, we've got to try and get back in the hunt, and that's what we're trying to do, put some wins on the board and try and get back in this thing," Collins said.

The Nationals were still steamed over a no-call involving a steal by Jayson Werth in the fourth inning.

Werth swiped second as Jose Lobaton struck out, and got up and tangled with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera when the throw skipped away. Werth kept heading to third and was thrown out by a wide margin.

Werth argued along with Washington manager Dusty Baker that he should've been awarded the base because of the block.

"I saw him point obstruction, and then he gave some jive explanation that really didn't make sense to me," Baker said of second base umpire Angel Hernandez.

Werth saw the same thing that his manager. When asked after the game about how an umpire can point and not get the bag, Werth responded: "You're asking the wrong person at this point. I clearly don't know the rule."

A request to talk to the umpires was submitted too late to get comment.

Conforto's two-run homer in the fifth gave the Mets a 3-1 lead and his sixth home run of the season made it 4-2 in the eighth. It was Conforto's second multihomer game in the majors -- as a rookie, he did it in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series against Kansas City.

"It's huge," Conforto said about winning the first games of series against Washington's two star pitchers.

"But you know, we had a feeling that this was coming. We have a lot of faith in ourselves. Things were going bad for a bit, but there's no panic in here," he said.

Hansel Robles (4-0) came in to start the sixth and retired five of the six batters he faced, striking out four. Jerry Blevins then took over and fanned Bryce Harper.

Jeurys Familia, pulled Friday night in the ninth while Washington tried to rally, retired three straight hitters to earn his first save of the season.

Familia, who led the majors with a team-record 51 saves last year, began this season serving a 15-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

Strasburg (2-1) gave up three runs in seven innings. He has gone exactly seven innings in all five of his starts this season.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-3. Zimmerman, who also had two singles, drove in all three Nationals runs and now has 11 homers this season to go along with 27 RBIs.

Zimmerman's shot broke a tie with Andre Dawson to move into second place on the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise list with 226.

Reyes hit a solo shot in the ninth, his second of the season.

Michael A. Taylor had three hits in his first game since replacing the injured Adam Eaton in center field for the Nationals. Taylor doubled in the first and added singles in the third and fifth.

Mets starter Zack Wheeler pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and allowing one earned run while striking out four.

RELATED: ADAM EATON OUT FOR SEASON WITH TORN ACL