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Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper, Bryce Harper stood at his locker, his back to the solemn Washington Nationals clubhouse. Teammates stopped for a hug, and the 19-year-old paused from packing up his belongings to oblige. One by one, they stopped to congratulate the teenager who helped lift the Nationals to their first-ever playoff berth and won over his teammates with his non-stop fire. One of the most remarkable seasons for a rookie professional baseball players had come to an abrupt, heartbreaking halt at 12:30 a.m. Saturday with a 9-7 loss.

“I’m pretty upset we lost,” said Harper, a large throng of cameras encircling him as he spoke. “It’s not how I wanted my year to end, definitely. I wanted to play deeper into the postseason, not ready to go home, don’t want to take off that uniform. That’s just something that happens every day, that happened. You’ve got to come back next year and not let it happen.”

With a 2-for-5 performance on Friday, Harper broke out of a 1-for-18 slump in the NLDS in ferocious fashion. He smashed an RBI triple in his first at-bat and then a towering home run in his second time up to the plate. An usually lifeless Nationals offense got a needed boost from its No. 2 hitter.

With his third-inning home run, Harper became the second youngest teenager to homer in the postseason. At 19 ½, Andruw Jones homered for the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 postseason. Harper, who is three days away from his 20th birthday on Tuesday, also became the youngest player to ever triple in the postseason. Trailing 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth, he struck out swinging against closer Jason Motte and trudged to the dugout for the final time.

There were many memorable story lines to the this magical Nationals season, but Harper is chief among them. Harper was called up from Class AAA Syracuse and shipped to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers on April 28 out of need. The Nationals needed offense as they dealt with a rash of injuries, Ryan Zimmerman heading to the disabled list the same day. The Nationals didn’t want to rush their prized 2010 first-overall pick to the majors and stunt his development. He was hitting .243 at Syracuse with only one home run in 21 games. If he struggled, there was a possibility he would return to the minors.

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