LOS ANGELES -- Even though he saw Dodgers manager Dave Roberts coming out of the dugout, with action in the bullpen in the seventh inning of the Nationals' eventual 6-5 loss on Tuesday, Bryce Harper was certain he would be facing Clayton Kershaw.
Roberts was coming out to give Kershaw a breather to set up a matchup of two of baseball's biggest stars in the seventh inning of Game 4 of this National League Division Series with 49,617 screaming fans working themselves into a frenzy at Dodger Stadium. With two outs, two runners on and the Nationals trailing by three, Harper came up to the plate as the tying run.
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"There was no chance of taking him out in that situation," Harper said. "I know that bulldog mentality and way he goes about it, as much as he wants to punch me out, I want to hit a homer in that situation. Two competitors going at it, lot of fun right there."
Harper fell behind, 1-2, before he took a few borderline pitches, fouled off a few more and eventually worked an eight-pitch walk. It ended up being a key at-bat during a game-tying, three-run rally.
"That's what baseball is all about right there, a matter of will," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "Kershaw was on empty. We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it. That was some battle."
"At-bat of the game," said second baseman Daniel Murphy, who capped the frame with a game-tying two-run single.
The Dodgers have thrown a steady diet of left-handers against Harper, including three of their four starting pitchers, with left-hander Rich Hill seeming likely to start Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on FS1) in Washington. It has made life tough on Harper, who is hitting .231/.412/.308 through the first four games.
But Tuesday afternoon was an encouraging sign for Harper, who also drew a nine-pitch walk in the first inning against Kershaw. After a disappointing regular season, culminating in a rough September that was also plagued by injury, Harper has put together some of his best at-bats of the year during the postseason and is starting to look more like himself.
"Big time, I'm liking the fight we're seeing from him," Baker said. "During playoff time is when he's at his best. I'm liking it a lot, because Kershaw, he's been hard on him his whole career -- and he knows it and Kershaw knows it and you guys know it, everybody knows it. I like what I'm seeing, the fight in him."