The ball cleared the center field wall, and the sellout crowd roared. Bryce Harper threw his bat in the air, thrust both index fingers skyward and yelled with delight as a shower of streamers rained upon the crowd of 43,698.
It could have been a scene from a playoff game. That it was merely the All-Star Home Run Derby mattered not to Harper or the Washington Nationals fans, who were thrilled to see their hometown hero deliver the night’s final longball Monday.
In the midst of it all and in the middle of trying season, Harper grabbed the microphone and said, “This crowd: Wow! Washington Nationals, baby!”
With an exceptional display of power and clutch hitting, Harper rallied in the final round, connecting on pitches from his father to beat Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs 19-18.
Harper hit the contest-winning blast in extra time, the reward for hitting two homers at least 440 feet during the four minutes of regulation. After he connected with the game winner, the Nationals star immediately went into celebration mode.
Wearing a headband that resembled the District of Columbia flag and displaying a right sleeve with stars and stripes, Harper trailed 18-9 with 1:20 left before rallying. He homered on nine of his last 10 swings before entering extra time.
The six-time All-Star arranged to have his dad, Ron, pitch to him in the annual contest on the eve of the All-Star Game. That made the victory even sweeter.
Hours before the session, Harper spoke excitedly about having his dad pitch to him in the contest. The 25-year-old said his father “worked his tail off every single day to provide for me and my family” and “now being able to have him throw to me in a big league ballpark is the cherry on top.”
Afterward, Ron Harper said of his son, “He did great. So I’m really proud of him. He’s a great kid. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”