There weren’t any clouds floating overhead Wednesday at Nationals Park, only sunshine and a nice breeze off the Anacostia River for 31,417 baseball fans to enjoy.
Bryce Harper, though, still managed to make it rain.
The 22-year-old bearded and polarizing All-Star used his bat to put some thunder into three Tom Koehler pitches in a 7-5 victory over the Marlins.
Harper racked up a near quarter-mile worth of distance on his three tape-measure shots ‒ a 393-foot solo blast in the second inning, a 445-foot second-deck shot in the third and then a 442-foot bomb in nearly the same place in the fifth ‒ as the Nationals (14-15) took the rubber game and put an end to Miami’s streak of four consecutive series victories.
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“That’s what I expect out of myself,” said Harper, who joined the Rockies’ Jose Ortiz (Aug. 7, 2001) and Brewers’ Jose Valentin (April 3, 1998) as the only players to hit three home runs in a game against the Marlins.
“Of course you’re not going to do that every single day. You’re not going to go out there and hit three homers, drive in five. But that’s the type of player I need to be.”
Even with Harper’s power display, the Marlins (13-15) still put themselves in position to steal the game late. Giancarlo Stanton’s three-run home run off Max Scherzer’s 114th and final pitch of the game in the eighth pulled Miami to within a couple runs.
But the Nationals’ bullpen closed it out. Stanton, who finished 2 for 13 in the series, struck out with two on in the ninth before Drew Stanton secured his eighth save of the season by striking out Marcell Ozuna, who finished 0 for 5, to end the game.
“You come into a series knowing you’re facing these three starters, you know you’re not going to get a ton of runs,” Marlins skipper Mike Redmond said. “But we did a pretty good putting pressure on these guys and getting enough runs to win games. We just weren’t able to hold them.
“I’m pretty pleased with the way we’re playing except for the fact we had two leads in the first game of the series and couldn’t get outs and lost that game because of that. But [Tuesday] was a great game and we had our chances [Wednesday].”
The Marlins, who will continue their 10-game road trip Thursday in San Francisco (where they are 13-5 since 2010), faced three All-Star pitchers to start the week in Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young winner.
They’ll face four more current or former All-Stars in San Francisco beginning with 215-game winner Tim Hudson, who is slated to go Thursday. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum follows on Friday with two-time All-Star and World Series hero Madison Bumgarner slated to go Saturday and one-time All-Star Ryan Vogelsong set to pitch Sunday.
Wednesday, the Marlins jumped on Scherzer early and took a 2-0 lead in the second by swinging at fastballs early in the count. But after Justin Bour, J.T. Realmuto, Ichiro Suzuki and Adeiny Hechavarria strung together four consecutive hits on just seven Scherzer pitches, a sacrifice bunt by Koehler backfired when the Nats turned it into a double play.
Soon after, Harper, 2 for 15 in his career against Koehler heading into Wednesday’s game, started to tee off and the lead was gone.
“The first two [home run balls] were up, the last was a slider that just didn’t slide,” said Koehler, who allowed five runs ‒ four on Harper swings ‒ over six innings.
“It’s tough because other than him I felt like I threw the ball really well. lt’s why baseball is such a crazy game. You can throw the ball really well and get stuck with a five-spot on you.”
Still, if reliever Sam Dyson had held the Nationals scoreless in the seventh, Stanton’s 439-foot, three-run bomb in the eighth would have tied it. Washington strung together three straight hits off Dyson and used a Harper groundout to score what turned out to be the two decisive runs. The two-run inning ended Dyson’s career-high string of 12 2/3 scoreless innings.
“When you play games like this against these teams, those add-on runs are always important ‒ both ways,” Redmond said. “For the team that’s ahead and the team that’s behind. We needed to put up a zero there. We just weren’t able to do it.”