Oct 4, 2015, 7:49 PM EST
NEW YORK — Bryce Harper’s run at the National League batting title came up short Sunday afternoon. A final-week slump, though, didn’t ruin Harper’s run at a complete season that ranks among the best in baseball history.
Needing to keep pace with the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, who enjoyed a 3-for-4 afternoon in his finale to raise his season-ending batting average to .333, Harper couldn’t hold serve. He went 1-for-4 in the Nationals’ 1-0 loss to the Mets, finishing at .330.
The season’s final two weeks weren’t kind to Harper. At the end of play September 20, he owned a .343 batting average, .470 on-base percentage and 1.143 OPS. But over his final 11 games, he hit just .162 (6-for-37), slowly seeing his lead over Gordon slip away.
“I probably could have taken the last two weeks off and hit .340 and do what I did,” Harper said. “But Dee Gordon is such a great hitter. He had over 200 hits, and I tip my cap to him. He’s done such a great job all year. I had to be in there today. I wanted to be in there for my team. I wanted to play my last day with [shortstop Ian Desmond, in his likely final game with the Nationals], if that was the way it was going to be. These fans and this organization expect me to go out and play.”
The day began with Harper (.3308) and Gordon (.3306) nearly deadlocked, but Gordon immediately took the lead with a leadoff double against Philadelphia’s David Buchanan, followed by a home run in his next at-bat. Harper, meanwhile, went 0-for-2 against Mets ace Jacob deGrom, then grounded out against lefty Jon Niese in the seventh, leaving his average at .3288.
Harper got one final chance to bat, with two outs in the ninth and the Nationals trailing by a run and facing New York closer Jeurys Familia. The 22-year-old managed to lace a ball down the third-base line for a clean hit, then took off around first and narrowly slid safely into second with a hustle double that required confirmation from MLB’s replay officials.
Harper’s effort during what could have been the Nationals’ final at-bat of the season wasn’t lost on manager Matt Williams.
“Just tells you how he can lead a club, and the way he plays can do that,” Williams said. “He doesn’t give up.”
Harper knew the batting title was no longer in reach at that point, but he still felt like something was at stake.
“I didn’t want to make the last out in Citi Field,” he said. “Definitely just trying to grind it out. If I was .328 or .325 in my last AB, I was gonna still do it. I want to stay in there. I think the baseball gods got me that knock down the third-base line and got up to .330. So, .330, 42 and 99 is pretty good.”
Harper’s final base offensive stat line — a .330 batting average, 42 homers, 99 RBI — was more than just pretty good. It was historic, especially when you swap out the RBI total in exchange for his league-leading .460 on-base percentage.
Only nine players in baseball history have hit .330 with 42 homers and .460 on-base percentage over a full season: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds and Bryce Harper. All but Harper were at least 24 years old when they did it.
“It was awesome,” left fielder Jayson Werth said of Harper’s season. “I’m really proud of him. He had a great season. MVP-caliber season.”
Though all MVP votes had to be submitted by the end of play Sunday, Harper and the Nationals will have to wait another six weeks or so to find out if he won the sport’s ultimate individual award.
“Hopefully the big prize is awaiting him,” Williams said.
Harper will head home to Las Vegas disappointed his historic year ended without a postseason appearance. But he’ll also head home believing he did everything he could to give his team a chance.
“I went out there and grinded out every single day for my team and my fans,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do. The Nationals gave me an opportunity to play this game and give it my all every single day. I’m very lucky to be part of a great team and do everything I could every single day. I played 150 games. That was my goal all year long. I’m happy with what I produced and what I did.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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