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Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and Bryce Harper celebrate their series sweep.
"I'm pretty antsy when it comes to sitting," the 19-year-old said. "I don't like doing it. I like to get going and play."
Held out by Davey Johnson for the first time in 38 big-league games due to tightness in his lower back, Harper had convinced his manager he could pinch-hit if needed. So as Sunday's series finale against the Red Sox moved into the latter innings, the rookie went down to the batting tunnel to take some swings and get loose.
And when the top of the ninth inning arrived, the Nationals and Red Sox knotted at 3, who should emerge into the on-deck circle but Harper, ready and determined to put his stamp on this game.
And then he did just that, drawing a key walk and then scoring from first base on Roger Bernadina's two-out, two-strike double to right field, the run that gave the Nationals a 4-3 victory and a series sweep at these hallowed baseball grounds.
"Picture perfect," Johnson said. "Storybook perfect."
In just six weeks as a major leaguer, Harper has dazzled teammates, opponents and fans in just about every manner possible. He's clubbed towering homers. He's fired 300-foot bullets from the outfield. He's turned routine singles into doubles. He's even stolen home on national TV.
To that list, he can now add his first contribution off the bench. It came at a crucial point in a back-and-forth game that saw the Nationals take an immediate 1-0 lead, then fall behind 2-1 on David Ortiz's fourth-inning homer, then retake a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh on Danny Espinosa's two-run double off the Green Monster, then watch as Jordan Zimmermann gave the lead right back in the bottom of the seventh.
As the game reached the top of the ninth, Johnson signaled for Harper to pinch-hit for Tyler Moore.
"I really didn't want to use him anytime but really late," the manager said. "He said he was feeling a lot better and he came running out, I think, in the seventh inning. I said: 'Have you been swinging?' He said: 'Yeah, I'm fine. I'm fine.' He made that point real clear. ...
"I was hoping I'd get a situation where I had a runner in scoring position, but we were running out of time."
As has been the case with so many pitchers over the last six weeks, Boston closer Alfredo Aceves didn't give in to the rookie one bit. He started off with three straight curveballs, then couldn't get his fastball over the plate and wound up walking him on five pitches.
"Going up there, I wanted to try to hit something to the gap, or something over the wall," Harper said. "I was trying to be patient also, and didn't really get anything to hit."
With Harper on first base, Jesus Flores stepped to the plate and struck out on a 1-2 fastball, leaving the game in the hands of Bernadina. The Nationals' starting center fielder in Harper's stead had come up short in a key spot two innings earlier, twice unable to execute a squeeze bunt.
This time, Bernadina turned on a 2-2 fastball from Aceves and laced it down the right-field line.
"I did whatever I had to do to get us the win," he said.
As did Harper, who was off and running on that 2-2 pitch, rounded second and picked up third-base coach Bo Porter, who was waving him in all along.
"Put him in motion, and that's what you hope for," Porter said. "You hope for a base hit, and you give him a chance to score by putting him in motion."
What was Harper thinking as he saw the ball sailing toward right field?
"I'm scoring," the rookie said. "Yeah, absolutely."
The Red Sox might have had a play at the plate, but the relay from Ryan Sweeney to Dustin Pedroia wasn't clean, so Harper slid across the plate well in advance of the throw as Bernadina advanced all the way to third.
All that remained was the bottom of the ninth, during which Tyler Clippard (pitching for the third straight day in this park and for the fifth time in six days overall) never let the Red Sox put the ball in play. Nick Punto struck out. Kevin Youkilis drew a walk. Scott Podsednik and Pedroia each struck out, each on changeups, setting off another celebration in the middle of the diamond for the visitors.
They arrived in town Friday as a franchise that had never won a single game in this ballpark despite nine previous tries. They departed with three consecutive victories, each impressive in their own right.
"I think the organization's come a long way in six years," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's cool to come here and get some wins. That's a good team, and we played well. To sweep that team here any time is really good."
How long had it been since the Red Sox were swept by a National League club? The last time it happened, Grady Little was their manager, Mike Port was their interim general manager and Big Papi was a Minnesota Twin.
The times have changed, indeed. The Red Sox are now two games under .500, last in the AL East. The Nationals are now 12 games over .500 for the first time since July 23, 2005, two games up in the NL East.
"I know we've shown the baseball world what kind of team we are," Clippard said. "And this was kind of a statement series for us in doing that, playing interleague against an AL East team that is a historically dominant team in baseball. And we came in here and swept them. That says a lot.
"They're definitely a good club, and I think we're better. I think we're a lot better."