Bryce Harper Caps Historic Rookie Season with Breakout Game 5 Performance

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterOctober 13, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals sits in the dugout after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 12, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Bryce Harper batted second for the Washington Nationals in 117 of the 139 games in which he played this season. As a catalyst for team’s potent offense, it seemed that they won whenever the 19-year-old thrived at the plate.

Harper played a role in 81 of the team’s wins during the regular season, batting .305/381/.562 with 76 runs, 39 extra-base hits (17 home runs) and 50 RBI in those games.

But the phenom fell on hard times to begin the NLDS, going 1-for-10 with a double and six strikeouts in the series’ first two games. However, as I noted earlier in the week, his approach was surprisingly consistent; he saw an average of five pitches per at-bat in that span.

In Games 3 and 4 (at Washington), Harper went a combined 0-for-8, lowering his overall postseason batting average to .050 (1-for-18). It was no coincidence that the Nats mustered only two runs in those games. Luckily, they both came in the same game, Game 4, which the Nationals won 2-1.

But with his team’s season on the line in a do-or-die Game 5, Harper’s bat finally heated up, and the Nats offense followed his lead. Swinging at pitches with conviction for the first time in the series, he laced an RBI triple to the left-center field wall off Adam Wainwright in the first inning to give the Nats an early 1-0 lead.

They would eventually tack on two more runs in the frame courtesy of a two-run blast from Ryan Zimmerman.

After nearly jumping the yard in the first, Harper worked the count full against Wainwright before launching a solo home run to right-center in the third inning. And following the youngster’s lead once again, the Nationals scored twice more to take a commanding 6-0 lead.

However, St. Louis’ bullpen dominated the second half of the game following a poor effort from Adam Wainwright. After Michael Morse’s home run with one out in the third, their bullpen allowed one earned run on four hits with six strikeouts over 6.2 innings.

In the same manner in which he ignited the team’s offense early in the game, Harper’s struggles over the final innings were seemingly contagious. 

In his final three at-bats, he struck out swinging against the hard-throwing Trevor Rosenthal to lead off fifth inning, flew out to center in the seventh and struck out swinging against Jason Motte in the ninth after Drew Storen relinquished the lead.

Harper finished his first postseason with a .130 batting average (3-for-23), three extra-base hits and eight strikeouts.

While it was still enjoyable and fitting for him to at least turn in one standout performance in the five-game series, one would think that more consistent and spread-out production would have propelled the Nationals into the League Championship Series.

Luckily, this was the first of what should be many postseasons for Harper, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on Tuesday.

Despite his four-game skid and the Nationals' failure to advance, he still exceeded all expectations by posting an .817 OPS with 98 runs scored, 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases in what was a historically good rookie season.