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Bryce’s epic bat flip caps victory in DC return

@ToddZolecki
April 3, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper could not escape the early boos from jilted Nationals fans Tuesday night at Nationals Park. But by the end of the Phillies’ 8-2 victory over the Nationals, Harper, his teammates and a few thousand Philadelphia fans had the ballpark mostly to themselves. Harper had doubled against

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper could not escape the early boos from jilted Nationals fans Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

But by the end of the Phillies’ 8-2 victory over the Nationals, Harper, his teammates and a few thousand Philadelphia fans had the ballpark mostly to themselves. Harper had doubled against Max Scherzer in the fifth inning, singled to score a run in the sixth and crushed a towering two-run home run into the second deck in right-center field in the eighth, sending Nats fans home and Phils fans into hysteria.

Harper savored every second of it.

“I heard the boos,” Harper said. “I kind of just remembered that I had 45,000 people in the city of Philadelphia -- and more -- that were screaming and yelling at their TVs cheering. I respect them so much. Being able to have them back at home, knowing that they’re cheering and screaming at me through the TVs and also having the huge section in right field really fired me up.

“I was really excited to know that this place was filled with Philadelphia fans.”

Harper spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, but the Phillies signed him to a 13-year, $330 million contract on March 2. Harper’s move to a division rival stung Nats fans, although an argument can be made that their team never seriously pursued the superstar right fielder in the offseason. Nevertheless, it hurts to see a favorite player leave town. Phils fans booed Jayson Werth when he left Philadelphia to join the Nationals in 2011, even though the Phillies never seriously tried to keep him.

Harper heard the chorus of boos before the game, when the Nationals announced him during lineup introductions. He heard them again when they showed him on the scoreboard following a tribute video. Harper heard them whenever he stepped into the on-deck circle, whenever he jogged to the outfield, whenever he stepped into the batter’s box, whenever he made a play in right.

Nats fans only cheered when Scherzer struck out Harper swinging in the first and third innings.

“I have the city of Philadelphia behind me each and every night,” Harper said. “If I have that then nothing else matters to me.”

But the tide turned in the sixth. Jean Segura had just cleared the bases with a double down the right-field line to give the Phillies a 5-0 lead, when Harper singled to left-center field to score Segura to extend the Phils’ lead to 6-0, which gave Zach Eflin the win. He struck out a career-high nine in five scoreless innings.

Harper waved to his teammates from second base. It is a "Fortnite" thing, for those wondering.

But then Phillies fans took over the ballpark they pretty much called their second home from 2008-11, when Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee dominated the division.

You remember those pre-Natitude days, don’t you?

“MVP! MVP!” Phillies fans chanted.

Boooooo.

“Let’s go, Phillies! Let’s go, Phillies!”

Boooooo.

“We’ve got Harper! We’ve got Harper!”

Boooooo.

But Harper wasn’t finished. He removed his cap and bowed to the hundreds of Philadelphia fans in the right-field stands before the bottom of the sixth. Harper pumped his right fist. It was the only time he tipped his cap to the crowd Tuesday. Harper was asked if it was disappointing not to have an opportunity to pay respects to his former fans.

“I had 500 Phillies fans out there that I was able to tip my cap to,” he said. “I was pumped about that.”

Harper crushed the 458-foot, two-run home run into the second deck in right-center field in the eighth. He complemented his fifth-longest home run since 2015, according to Statcast, with an epic bat flip. Harper launched the bat into the air and it helicoptered several times before hitting the turf.

“It’s the emotion of the game,” Harper said.

“Honestly, I was surprised that there wasn't as many cheers as I thought there was going to be,” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “He's done a tremendous amount for this city, for this organization, for this community. He got crushed. I was surprised. I kind of had to chuckle that they were booing, but also had their phones out to record it because it's a pretty cool moment. But I thought he handled it really well. I probably would have done the same thing with the bat flip he did. The guy plays with emotion, man. That's how you should react, I think.”

It was Harper’s first of 10 games at Nationals Park in the first of 13 seasons with the Phils. There will be many more games between Harper and his former team in front of his former fans. Many will be forgotten. But not this one. Nobody can forget this one.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .