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Bryce Harper sure didn’t look like a guy anxious to get out of town. And Washington, D.C., sure didn’t look like a city ready to show him the door.
Harper almost single-handedly saved a Home Run Derby sadly lacking in stars with the show he put on Monday night at Nationals Park. It wasn’t just that he won it—it was how he won it.
And it wasn’t just how he won it, with home runs on nine straight swings to draw even with Kyle Schwarber in the final round and then a no-doubt homer to center field to put it away, followed by arms raised and a two-handed bat flip.
It wasn’t just that. It was what he said. It was what they chanted.
“I freaking love this crowd!” Harper shouted at ESPN’s Buster Olney. “Washington Nationals, baby! Let’s go! Nice job!”
“Let’s go, Bryce!” the fans had screamed as Harper got ready for his first-round matchup with Freddie Freeman.
“Let’s go, Har-per!” they yelled, as he came to the plate in the final round.
When it was over, his Nationals teammates Max Scherzer and Sean Doolittle handed Harper the trophy, which he gave to his father, Ron (who was also his pitcher). Dave Martinez, the Nationals manager, picked up Harper and carried him.
Obviously, the disappointing Nationals could use Harper carrying them in the second half of the season in a way he rarely has so far in 2018. Obviously, what happens when he hits free agency after the World Series will be determined by what he and the Nationals do between now and then—and by the numbers on the contract offers he gets from the Nationals and other teams.
But there was a sense at one time that Harper would definitely be a goner after 2018, that the Nationals wouldn’t pay him or