WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper wasted little time proving that last year’s Rookie of the Year season was no fluke.
Harper belted two home runs off starter Ricky Nolasco to lift the Nationals to a 2-0 victory over the Miami Marlins on Monday in the season opener for both teams.
The 20-year-old Harper lined a 1-0 offering from the Miami right-hander into the right-centerfield stands to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
A capacity crowd of 45,274 roared its delight for Harper, who hit over .400 in spring training and carried the momentum over into the regular season.
”The first one was very cool,“ the 20-year-old Harper told reporters. ”Being able to share that with these fans, my family, this organization, this team was a great moment.
Harper’s second shot, on a 3-2 pitch, opened the fourth inning. Both home-run pitches were off-speed deliveries from Nolasco, a 30-year-old, seven-year veteran and gave Washington flamethrower Stephen Strasburg all the support he needed.
”I just tried to react to something I could hit,“ said Harper, who made the National League All-Star team a year ago as a teenager. ”Nolasco is a great pitcher.
“He carved me all up last year. Being able to get two knocks off of him was good for me.”
After the first homer, Harper gave manager Davey Johnson an exuberant high-five. The 70-year-old skipper was delighted Harper delivered a less emphatic one following his second blast.
“I‘m glad he cut it down on the second one,” Johnson said with a laugh. “My hand was still stinging from the first one.”
Nolasco pitched six solid innings, giving up just three hits while walking two and striking out five, but those hanging pitches to Harper helped spoil the opener of the Marlins’ 20th anniversary season.
“Two bad pitches there for home runs and that was the difference in the game or otherwise we would still be playing,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said. “We had some opportunities to score.”
One of those chances was erased when Harper’s laser throw to the plate after a Rob Brantly fly-out to left in the seventh helped trigger a rundown that ultimately had Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton nailed at the plate.
Nationals manager Johnson, who labeled this season a “World Series or bust” campaign, could not have set up his team’s victory any better.
Strasburg tossed seven innings of three-hit ball before yielding to set-up reliever Tyler Clippard. Rafael Soriano, who had 42 saves for the New York Yankees a year ago, pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the win.
Harper, who hit 22 home runs for the Nationals last season after he was promoted from the minor leagues in late April, said he could conjure an even better time for his star performance.
”The perfect formula would be a World Series win,“ he said. ”That would be really cool. If that was Game Seven and we did that and won the ball game, that would be the perfect thing.
“But having Strasburg be able to throw seven, Clip come in for the eighth and Soriano for the ninth, that’s pretty unbelievable.”
Editing by Larry Fine