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Harper's walk-off winner

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Harper's walk-off winner

He'd already had multiple opportunities to be the hero, in the bottom of the ninth and the bottom of the 11th. That Bryce Harper found himself with yet another chance to deliver for the Nationals in the bottom of the 12th was a remarkable twist of fate in a marathon ballgame that featured enough twists and turns to leave even the most ardent of roller coaster enthusiasts nauseous.

Harper had done something rare in his previous at-bat, chasing pitches from Mets rookie right-hander Elvin Ramirez well out of the zone and striking out to leave the winning run stranded on base. Now, one inning later, he had another opportunity against Ramirez, and he was determined not to waste this one.

"I've been pretty patient the whole time I've been up here, so for him to get me like that, I was pretty pissed off about that right there," Harper said. "I wasn't going to go up there and do the same thing."

The 19-year-old lived up to his promise. Though he fell behind in the count, Harper didn't let the moment get the best of him. He calmly poked Ramirez's 0-2 fastball into left field, bringing Jesus Flores home with the run that gave the Nationals a stirring, 7-6 victory and gave the phenom the first walk-off hit of his career.

And the first player to greet Harper near first base, leaping into his waiting arms? Ryan Zimmerman, a man who has been at the center of those scenes a few times in his career, having slugged eight walk-off home runs since 2006.

"Oh my gosh, that was unbelievable," Harper said. "Sharing that moment with Zim, I think, it was pretty unbelievable."

Zimmerman, in his usual deadpan style, explained his moment of jubilation.

"I was just so happy the game was over and we won," he said. "It could've been you out there and I would've done the same thing."

Harper, of course, is unlike you. Really, he's unlike just about anyone who has ever played this game. Already entrusted at 19 to help carry a first-place ballclub, he added another impressive tally to his ever-growing list of accomplishments: He became the first teenager to record a walk-off hit in the major leagues since Gary Sheffield did it for the Brewers on Sept. 9, 1988.

Not that the Nationals look at him as a teenager, or even as a rookie, anymore.

"He's a man-child," Michael Morse said. "He's unbelievable."

"The kid's a gamer," Ian Desmond said, adding to the superlatives being tossed around the postgame clubhouse. "He's unbelievable. One of the best players I've ever seen, to be honest."

Harper's two-out, bases-loaded single to left ended this game and ensured the Nationals would sit alone atop the NL East, but it would not have been possible if not for a string of clutch hits by his teammates prior to that point.

Three of them, incredibly, were delivered by Desmond, who thrice drove in the tying run over the game's final five innings.

Desmond's eighth-inning single brought Zimmerman home to make this a 4-4 game. His hard-hit ball to shortstop in the 10th -- a ball that ate up New York's Jordany Valdespin and resulted in his second error of a nightmare inning -- again brought Zimmerman home to make it a 5-5 game. And his double down the left-field line in the 12th brought Morse home to make it 6-6 and set the stage for a wild, wacky finish.

The key, in Desmond's mind, to all those clutch hits?

"I wasn't trying to win the game with a home run," he said. "I just wanted to score one run, just try to get the one in. I think that's a mistake that I've been making for a while: I would go up there and try to win the game instead of just hit."

The 12th-inning rally wasn't necessarily a work of art from the Nationals' perspective. It featured Jesus Flores drawing an intentional walk from Ramirez (who nearly threw one of those pitches to the backstop and allowed the winning run to score in that fashion). It featured Ross Detwiler (the last man standing in the bullpen) botching two bunt attempts and then drawing a walk to load the bases. It nearly was killed by Xavier Nady's grounder to first, which might have set off an inning-ending double play but instead led only to a force out at the plate.

And then it finally featured Harper's game-winner, leading to a mad celebration some 4 hours and 15 minutes after this game began, with a 19-year-old right in the middle of it all.

"He doesn't get caught up in the moment," Zimmerman said. "A lot of times it takes people some time to learn how to stay calm in those situations. Everyone's going to obviously not do it in those times, but for the most part for how young he is, he does a really good job."

The coolest part of it all for the rest of the Nationals? They know this won't be the last time they get to see Harper do this.

"It's awesome to see him learn and really just grow as a player right now," Detwiler said. "You know he's going to be in the same position he's in now in 10-15 years. It's pretty cool to see the beginning of it."

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Janson went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great. It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE

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Ten very good Pups in the Park who don't care that the Nats lost

Ten very good Pups in the Park who don't care that the Nats lost

Nationals Park opened its gates to dogs on Sunday for "Pups in the Park." Humans and their doggos got to sit in outfield section 140-143 with tickets being $30 per person and $10 per canine.

The Nationals ended up losing to the Reds, but that didn't put a damper on the afternoon for the guests of honor. 

Sometimes, its a blessing not to know what's going on. Just check out these ten happy puppers. 

1. Teddy, who's cuter than any racing president

2. Steve, who looks great in hats

Steve the dog 🐶 showing his natitude #pupsinthepark #nats

A post shared by Jen (@see_jho_run) on

3. Penny, who probably wasn't easy to carry around

Today was a good day to be Penny. #ballgame⚾️ #natsbestbuds #pupsinthepark

A post shared by Sheri (@pennysmom87) on

We took her out to the ball game! #pupsinthepark #natsbestbuds

A post shared by Sheri (@pennysmom87) on

4. Apollo, a Nats fan from a young age

5. Ellie, who plans to use this photo for #TongueOutTuesday

6. Auryn, who isn't even watching the game

Happiest little corgi in the park #aurynthedog @viano_perez #pupsinthepark #nats

A post shared by Taylor Pittman (@taylorp712) on

7. Moussie, who trimmed his beard just for the occasion

MOUSSIE IN THE PARK ⚾️🐶

A post shared by emma (@emmajekowsky) on

8. Dasher, obviously the favorite granddog

9. Bentley and Abby, whose moms can be overbearing 

Enjoying #pupsinthepark at @nationals game! #Bentley #Abby #ForcedPhotos 🐶🐶⚾️

A post shared by Mary Kennedy (@mkay0310) on

10. PJ, who squeezed into this selfie at the last minute

It's #pupsinthepark day at #nationals park. PJ is ready for a big Nats win!

A post shared by Luke Reeves (@lreevesm) on

Washington is now 13-19 in days games this season, significantly worse than their 31-11 night record. But these furry friends don't know that!

MORE NATIONALS: Roark's shaky start dooms Nats in loss to Reds