It was the kiss he delivered as he approached home plate after the home run that’s drawn national attention.
The Washington Nationals’ top prospect cracked a one-out solo home run to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning. The dinger spoke for itself, but the volume got louder Tuesday when a clip of Harper’s home run trot went viral.
A Comcast Sports Network video, which also was featured on ESPN, showed the extent of the extra interaction. The film showed Harper’s time-delayed home run trot which was punctuated by Harper puckering up toward Greensboro pitcher Zach Neal as he headed to the plate.
The homer was Harper’s 14th of the season, tying him with Augusta’s Andrew Duvall for the South Atlantic League lead. The video started a firestorm of responses.
The likes of Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, former Washington general manager Jim Bowden and countless bloggers weighed in on the actions, focusing on Harper’s maturity, his baseball etiquette and his age.
Meanwhile, the Hagerstown Suns declined comment, but the Nationals are monitoring and dealing with the situation.
Harper was in the lineup, batting in his customary third spot on Tuesday as the Suns and Grasshoppers completed their critical three-game series which could decide the first-half title in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.
“It’s something that we’re going to handle internally,” Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said to The Washington Post’s Nationals Journal blog. “For us, it’s a teaching moment. We’ve got our arms around this.
“This is a teaching moment not only for Bryce, but for the rest of that ballclub. This is not just about him.”
Monday’s drama started in the first inning when Neal struck out Harper on a borderline call Harper didn’t care for to end the first inning.
Some observers said Tuesday that the groundwork for the incident started there, with Neal sending a kiss in Harper’s direction after the whiff.
“It never feels good to strike out,” Harper said. “You had a good guy out there from OU (Oklahoma). You don’t get many pitches that you can try to drive.”
Harper exacted his first measure of revenge in the fourth when he grounded a single off of Neal’s foot.
The rubber match came in the sixth. Harper stroked a 1-0 pitch from Neal over the wall in right-center field and took a little time to watch it clear the fence. The video shows Harper looking toward the mound at Neal while running from third to home and puckering up. After crossing the plate, Harper twice looked back over his shoulder as Greensboro manager Andy Haines came out of the dugout to protest.
The Suns’ 2-0 lead was short-lived as Greensboro’s Wilfredo Giminez trumped it with a three-run homer in the seventh off Shane McCatty to give the Grasshoppers all the runs they needed.
Still, Harper had one more say for the Suns.
He came to the plate to face reliever Grant Dayton with one out in the eighth. Dayton’s first pitch was high and tight, backing Harper off the plate.
Harper connected on the next pitch, hitting a high drive to right that looked out when it left the bat, but Marcell Ozuna camped under the ball and caught it with his heels near the base of the fence for a long second out.
“I just missed it by an inch,” Harper said. “It was a curve up and I just missed it. I thought it was out. It sucks. I get it out and it ties the game up and gives us a chance to go extra innings.”
The one Harper hit felt great, but he really wanted the one he missed.
“That’s the game of baseball,” he said. “The ball didn’t roll our way today.”
All of this came a day after Harper was hit by a pitch on the inside part of his left knee in the first inning on Sunday. He left the game limping, but walked off the field under his own power.
“The knee feels good,” he said. “I got banged up a bit yesterday, but I came in early today and got treatment and it feels great.”