WASHINGTON — Nationals star Bryce Harper has not had a lot to enjoy in his last season before free agency, struggling — at least by his usual standards — with a .214 average and other deficiencies in his game.
Monday turned out to be a good night, as Harper won the home run derby in front of some of the same Nats fans who have been disappointed in his performance, beating Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber 19-18 in the final, tying on his last swing of regulation time, then won in the 30 seconds of bonus time he had earned.
And Harper definitely enjoyed the victory, pumping his fist repeatedly, flexing his muscles and just playing overall to the roaring fans.
"This crowd, wow,'' he said in his on-field interview. "I love this crowd, every single night they come out and support us.''
Harper, batting wearing a patriotic looking headband. eliminated Atlanta's Freddie Freeman in the first round, and Los Angeles' Max Muncy in the second round.
Harper thanked the crowd for energizing him, thanked his current teammates and manager Dave Martinez, and also Rays catcher Wilson Ramos, a former Nats teammate and (injured) AL All-Star who came over to encourage him during the timeout before his final surge.
"He says 'you got this papi, there's nobody better,' " Harper said. "That was a cool moment. It was great to see The Buffalo."
Harper got off to a slow start in the final, and credited his dad, Ron, who threw to him.
"I think I had nine after the second timeout, like 1:45 left, and I saw (Nationals teammates Sean) Doolittle and (Max) Scherzer and I'm like, 'Man, I have to hit nine.' And Max is like, no, you have to hit 10. But he hit my barrel like nine straight."
Harper joined Todd Frazier of the Reds (2015) and Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs (1990) as players to win the derby in their home parks.
The night started with an upset, as Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins beat top-seeded Jesus Aguilar of the Brewers 17-12. Schwarber, seeded fifth, beat No. 4 Alex Bregman of the Astros, 16-15. Harper, the No. 2 seed, beat No. 7 Freeman 13-12. And third-seeded Muncy eliminated No. 6 Javy Baez of the Cubs 17-16. In the semifinals, Schwarber beat Hoskins 21-20 and Harper beat Muncy 13-12.