WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper stood Tuesday night at second base as the villain in his old home. It was a place — Nationals Park in a Phillies jersey with the crowd that once revered him now vilifying him — that Harper never expected to be. But here he was. And he reveled in it.
An emphatic 8-2 win over the Nationals began with the Washington crowd jeering Harper with every move he made. Pre-game introductions. Boo. Walk to on-deck circle. Boo. Walk to batter’s box. Boo. Swing. Boo. Miss. Cheer. Jog to the outfield. Boo. Catch a fly out. Boo. Hand a ball to a kid. Boo.
But there he was, the villain, standing on second base after driving in the team’s sixth run with a single. The boos had been muted as they had been rendered useless. Harper pointed to the Phillies dugout, pounded his fists, and roared. The Phillies fans that flooded Nationals Park roared back.
The fans chanted “M-V-P” and “We-Got-Harper” from right field as they turned Harper’s return to Washington into a Phillies home game. The night promised to be good theater. But the theatrics surpassed the expectations.
“I heard the boos and just remembered that I had 45,000 people and more in the city of Philadelphia that were screaming at their TVs cheering,” Harper said. “Knowing that they were back at home, cheering and screaming at me through the TVs plus having a huge section in right field really fired me up. I’m excited to know this place was filled with Philadelphia fans.”
That moment would have been enough, but Harper was not finished. He clubbed a homer in the eighth inning, battering a fat fastball from former Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson into the second deck in right field. Harper flipped his bat end-over-end to provide an exclamation point.
“To be able to witness what has gone on with No. 3 has been really, really cool,” Rhys Hoskins said. “It’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The way that he’s handled it, the emotion that he’s played with, and just how seamless he’s transitioned into this clubhouse. The guy really, really wants to be here a long time. It’s been cool to watch and I’m glad I have a front-row seat.”
The Phillies started the season 4-0, their best start since the 1915 Phillies won their first eight games en route to the pennant.
They defeated Max Scherzer by chasing Washington’s ace after just five innings. Maikel Franco was intentionally walked three times after homering for the third time in four games. Zach Eflin tied a career-high with nine strikeouts in five innings. Jean Segura provided a three-run double, Odubel Herrera doubled three times and Hoskins made a great defensive play in the third inning.
The Phillies are more than just Harper, but it is their superstar that sets the tone.
“He’s pretty mentally tough,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It was a surprise for everybody in our dugout, but I think he responded in a really impressive way. I also think it’s really impressive that he’s in constant state of gratitude for our fans, the Phillies fans that were in the ballpark tonight and for his teammates. I think he feels an incredible amount of support. It was pretty powerful for him to come out and do what he did tonight.”
Harper stood shortly before the game at the base of the dugout steps and leaned against the bat rack as the public-address announcer rattled off the Phillies’ lineup. It seemed as if Harper was waiting to emerge from the dugout and tip his cap if the fans who once revered him opted to cheer when the announcer called his name.
Instead, the announcement of Harper’s name was greeted by the first boos of the night. Harper, ever so stoic, didn’t flinch. The scoreboard flashed a highlight package of Harper’s brightest moments in D.C. and the boos grew louder. Just four dugout steps separated Harper from the field, but there were no cheers to acknowledge.
A few hours later, Harper stood on second base and finally there were cheers. When he ran to right field for the start of the inning, Harper stopped his jog in shallow right field and ripped off his hat. The section of Phillies fans were standing and Harper bowed, performing the routine he has done before each of the season’s first three home games. Now he was taking his act on the road. The boos had finished. There were cheers to acknowledge. Harper made himself at home as a visitor in his old hometown.
“I didn’t know what it would be like,” Harper said. “I heard the boos. That’s part of sports. So I just tried to remember that the city of Philadelphia is back at home, yelling at their TVs, happy as heck that I’m a Philadelphia Phillie. The people behind me were telling me the same thing. Knowing I have these guys back at home loving me is all that matters.”