WASHINGTON - Bryce Harper's return to the city in which he played for seven seasons on Tuesday night was everything the Phillies wanted it to be and everything the Washington Nationals didn't want it to be.
Harper survived a pair of strikeouts - and a lot of boos - in his first two at-bats and finished the night with a single, a double and a home run - his third in three games (see story). His three-RBI night led an 8-2 Phillies' win and pushed the team's record to 4-0 (see observations). The last time the Phils were 4-0 was 1915. They lost in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox that season.
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Of course, it's way too early to be thinking about postseason play - heck, the New York Mets started last season 11-1 only to finish eight games under .500 - but this is fun. This team is fun. In four games, the Phillies have bashed the baseball, hitting 10 home runs, and the fans are loving it, home and away.
Harper was booed for most of the game, but the boos turned to cheers when he launched a mammoth second-deck homer to right in the eighth inning. The homer flew over several sections of Phillies fans who drowned out the Washington fans with chants of "MVP! … MVP!" and "We got Harper! … We got Harper!"
Harper wasn't the only standout on this night. Zach Eflin looked very much like a guy ready to break out as he struck out a career-high nine batters in five innings and delivered a clutch at-bat in the fourth. Rhys Hoskins made a nice defensive play early in the game at first base, Jean Segura had a three-run double, Odubel Herrera had three doubles and Maikel Franco reached base five times thanks to three intentional walks and a couple of big hits.
Harper got the MVP chants, but Franco might be the MVP of the first four games. He stroked a two-out homer against Max Scherzer in the second inning. It was his third homer in four games. Yes, it's super early, but Franco's on-base percentage is a gaudy .706.
Once upon a time, Franco hit in the middle of the batting order. In this new and improved Phillies' lineup, he's been hitting eighth. A drop like that would be a blow to some players' pride. Not Franco. He has survived benchings and trade rumors. His upbeat attitude never wanes and that's a big factor in his resilience.
"I don't care where I hit," Franco said. "I just want to be in the lineup and help my team. I'm taking nothing for granted, just do my best."
Manager Gabe Kapler likes Franco in the eight-hole.
"There's some strategy to this," Kapler said. "I think Maikel is seeing a lot pitches. It's caused him to be patient. He's smiling a lot. He's especially confident. He's getting a couple of pitches to hit per game and he's doing damage on them. I don't think we have to make any changes with the lineup right now. I think our lineup works well with him at the bottom and clearly it doesn't limit his ability to produce power."
Kapler opened spring training by challenging Franco to hold off Scott Kingery for playing time.
"There are people who tend to cower in those situations and there are people who tend to step up and try to meet a pretty high bar," Kapler said. "It seems to me that he's taken that challenge on and used it as motivation.
"He's always bringing energy to the dugout. He's one of everybody's favorite teammates."
Franco has forged a little bond with Harper. They have one of those secret handshakes to celebrate home runs.
"He's amazing," Franco said of Harper. "He's a really good dude.
"We're having fun."
Winning will do that.
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