A couple of weeks after he was famously hit by a pitch in his very first appearance against Cole Hamels, 19-year-old Bryce Harper was at Citizens Bank Park facing Roy Halladay.
The Phillies had dominated the National League East for the previous five years, but Washington was starting to challenge their superiority. Harper was 23 games into his rookie season. It’s one thing to be on magazine covers as a teenage prodigy. It’s another to stare down the reigning Cy Young winner.
It was the top of the third and the Nationals had two men on. Harper, who had singled off Halladay in the first inning, came to the plate more prepared than most rookies.
“I’ve been watching him for about three years,” Harper told the Washington Post after the game. "He throws first-pitch curveballs to so many people, and they just let it get over the plate.”
Not Harper. He lined that 76 mph curve into the right-center field gap for a two-run triple that silenced the 45,000-plus who now adore him. Washington beat the Phillies for the ninth time in 10 games and, that season, ended the Phils’ reign as National League East champions.
"He hung a curveball to the kid, and the kid smoked it,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “That was really the turning point, as far as I’m concerned.”
Harper on Tuesday returns to D.C. (7:05 p.m., NBCSP), where he will face another dominant right-hander for the first time in his career: former teammate Max Scherzer, who won his second and third Cy Young awards with Washington in 2016 and 2017, and finished second last season.
Harper has had mixed results against the game’s top pitchers. He’s done pretty well against Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola but struggled against Jake Arrieta and the late Jose Fernandez. Clayton Kershaw, the only left-hander in this paragraph, owns Harper.
Here’s a look at how Harper has fared against baseball’s best.
>>vs. Jacob deGrom: Harper is 10-for-31 (.323) with two solo homers.
>>vs. Aaron Nola: Harper is 10-for-33 (.303) with three home runs. Nola, Harper’s teammate nowadays, started to figure out the slugger last season. Harper went just 2-for-16 (.125) against him in 2018 with nine strikeouts.
>>vs. Jake Arrieta: Harper was 4-for-5 off Arrieta in 2012, but that was before Arrieta left Baltimore and turned his career around in Chicago. Harper is 0-for-16 off Arrieta since 2013, but the only way he’ll ever face him again is if Arrieta becomes an ex-Phillie.
>>vs. Noah Syndergaard: Harper is a career .292 hitter off the Mets pitcher (7-for-24), but six of those seven hits are singles. The other is a double.
>>vs. Jose Fernandez: Harper was 4-for-19 (all singles) with six walks and six strikeouts. Fernandez was a budding star with the Marlins before he was killed in a boating accident in 2016.
>>vs. Kenley Jansen: Harper is 4-for-11 with a home run, two walks and an HBP. He’s only faced the Dodgers closer once in the last two years. Is it too early to wonder if they’ll meet in October?
>>vs. Roy Halladay: Harper’s only at-bats came in 2012, after Halladay was out of his prime. But he was 3-for-6, with that clutch two-run triple.
>>vs. Cole Hamels: Plenty of veteran pitchers were not impressed by all the hype around Harper in his 2012 rookie season. Hamels tried to inject some humility by plunking Harper in the back the first time he faced him, but it was Harper who made the statement. He came around to score by stealing home and added two hits. The Phillies won the game, but Harper did not cower. Hamels received a five-game suspension for intentionally throwing at Harper. His batting average against Hamels is just .235 (8-for-34), but his on-base percentage is .395.
>>vs. Clayton Kershaw: Don’t ask. Harper is 3-for-26 (.115) with 15 strikeouts; something else to keep in mind come postseason.
>>vs. Jon Lester: Harper is 3-for-15 (.200) with eight strikeouts.
>>vs. Cliff Lee: Lee was in the twilight of his career when he held Harper to just 1-for-12 (.083).
A look at how the top Phillies hitters have fared against the Nats’ ace.
>>vs. Odubel Herrera: The mercurial center fielder has an impressive .341 batting average against Scherzer (14-for-41) with two homers and an OPS of 1.035. He hit the two bombs off Scherzer last August.
>>vs. Andrew McCutchen: A .160 hitter against Scherzer (4-for-25) with 14 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances. Yuck.
>>vs. Rhys Hoskins: Is 0-for-11 with seven whiffs. Double yuck.
>>vs. J.T. Realmuto: The former Marlin has three hits in 36 at-bats (.083). Scherzer made five starts against Realmuto and the Marlins last season -- and won them all.
>>vs. Maikel Franco: Three hits in 24 at-bats (.125), all singles.
>>vs. Jean Segura: Hasn’t seen Scherzer since he was with Arizona in 2016, but led off that game with a homer. It’s his only hit in six ABs against Mad Max.