Tracking Bryce Harper’s major league debut

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We’ll provide updates throughout the night as baseball’s top prospect, 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, makes his MLB debut against the Dodgers. Here’s the lineup, via Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

First pitch is scheduled for 9:10 p.m. ET. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg is facing LA’s Chad Billingsley.

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6:58 PM: From Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times comes this shot of Harper speaking to the media at Dodger Stadium before pregame batting practice. “I’m not actually that nervous,” he told reporters.

source:

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7:03 PM: CBS Sports’ Scott Miller says Harper’s mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law will be in attendance.

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7:47 PM: It should come as no surprise that Harper, who once smashed a 502-foot dinger during a high school home run derby contest, absolutely demolishes pitches in batting practice. Via Kilgore:

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9:15 PM: We’re underway. CSNWashington.com’s Mark Zuckerman brings the all-important uniform update:

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9:31 PM: Harper walks to the plate to heavy boos from the Dodger Stadium crowd, takes three pitches (two balls, one strike), then grounds out on a chopper to Billingsley. It’s 0-0 in the second inning.

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9:35 PM: Hernandez snapped this photo of Harper’s first at-bat from the Dodger Stadium press box:

source:

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9:59 PM: Harper just barely avoided a full-speed collision with Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond on a bloop single by Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. in the third inning. The ball fell in between the two Nats.

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10:20 PM: Harper flew out softly to left field in his second trip to the plate after working another 2-1 count.

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10:54 PM: Harper blasted a double to the base of the center field wall in his third at-bat, after working a 3-2 count. He threw his helmet off heading into second base, showing off a sort of hybrid mohawk.

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11:13 PM: Harper threw a bullet to home plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, nearly nabbing Dodgers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. as he tried to score from second base on a ball slapped into left field. But Wilson Ramos dropped the ball while applying the tag. The game is tied at 1-1 as we move to the top of the eighth.

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11:54 PM: Harper drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to left field in the top of the ninth inning. Ramos then added an RBI single, giving the Nationals a late 3-1 lead over Los Angeles.

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12:09 AM: A fan ran onto the field in the bottom of the ninth inning, interrupting play. Both television broadcasts avoided showing him for obvious reasons, but Kilgore passes along a mini recap:

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12:18 AM: Nationals setup man Henry Rodriguez surrendered two runs on three hits while recording only two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers tied it 3-3 and we’re heading to extras.

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12:37 AM: Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp hit a walkoff home run over the center field fence to win it in the bottom of the 10th inning. Harper finished 1-for-3 with an RBI. A fantastic night of baseball all around.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.