For a time Monday, the Nationals looked as if they had a real chance to rally back in the seventh inning of National League Division Series Game 2 vs. the Cardinals, which ultimately ended as a 12-4 drubbing at Busch Stadium. They were down five runs when Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper both hit safely to open the seventh, putting two men in scoring position with no outs.
But when Ryan Zimmerman lifted a sacrifice fly toward the left-field line, plating Werth, Harper -- with the Nats still down four and needing as many baserunners as possible -- inexplicably made a break for third. Despite Matt Holliday's far-from-perfect throw to cutoff man Pete Kozma, the Cards threw Harper out easily.
"That's inexperience," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He's overly aggressive there ... it was wrong to try to go to third."
It was the most costly gaffe through two unproductive playoff games for Harper, who is now 1-for-10 with six strikeouts in the series. Asked if he was being overanxious in his first taste of October baseball, the rookie grew stern.
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"Do I look overanxious?" Harper said. "Do you think so? You should be a hitting coach."
Anxiety may not be Harper's issue, considering the extent to which he was known for his aggressiveness throughout the regular season. Harper even saw 15 pitches in his first two at-bats Monday, both of them strikeouts, and averaged 5.6 per plate appearance. That is hardly the approach of an anxious hitter.
The rookie is also fresh off batting .341 with 10 home runs over his final 34 games of the regular season, rebounding from a midsummer slump to spark the Nats down the stretch. Though a Washington Post report indicated that he played through strep throat in Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS, that seemed far from his mind in the wake of Monday's game.
"That happens," was how Harper described his early playoff struggles. "That's just things that you've got to work through and try to get through, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Heading into the NLDS, the Nationals spent much of their time downplaying their postseason inexperience as a team, with young players such as Harper tasked to play significant roles. But even Johnson admitted that inexperience played a role in Harper's puzzling Game 2 decision to tag up from second base, sabotaging Washington's best chance at a comeback.
Afterward, Harper offered little remorse.
"I just thought Kozma had to make a perfect throw, and it's just something that happened," he said. "It was a big inning, and maybe I shouldn't have done it, but sometimes you've got to roll the dice."