WASHINGTON (AP) - Not surprisingly, Bryce Harper is not ready to say the Washington Nationals' season is over, even though they're five games under .500 and 14 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
``I'm going to go out there and play every single game like it's my last. I play this game hard every day and that's what I'm going to do,' he said, ``and hopefully everybody jumps on that train.'
As is often the case, Harper was smack-dab in the middle of all the action Tuesday night - homering; getting hit by a pitch and barking at Atlanta's Julio Teheran; striking out to end the Nationals' 2-1 loss to the Braves.
Teheran insisted he didn't mean to plunk Harper two innings after the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year drove a shot to the deepest part of Nationals Park for his 17th homer.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said ``it definitely wasn't on purpose.'
Harper and everyone else connected to the Nationals was sure it was.
``It's part of the game and it's something, I guess, he's got to do,' Harper said, his hands on his hips. Then, asked whether he was surprised Teheran hit him, Harper offered this nugget: ``Uh, I hit that ball pretty far off him. So no, not really.'
And Washington manager Davey Johnson observed: ``You file it for future reference.'
All in all, it was the sort of stuff rivalries and high-drama playoff chases are made of.
Except, in this particular case, Evan Gattis' two-run single in the fifth inning off Gio Gonzalez (7-5), and the six innings thrown by Teheran (9-5) while allowing one run, combined to produce Atlanta's season-high 12th consecutive win and pad their division lead.
It was the latest weak hitting performance by a Nationals club that's had trouble at the plate since April and is nowhere near as good as it was expected to be a year after leading the majors with 98 wins.
``We just need to play better,' Johnson said. ``It's that simple.'
Harper put Washington ahead 1-0 with one out in the third, driving the first pitch of the at-bat onto the grassy hill in straightaway center for his 17th homer. Harper paused a bit as he left the batter's box, watching the ball fly, then dropped his bat and took a slower-than-usual-for-him trot around the bases.
``Yeah, he sat there for a little bit, but it is what it is,' Braves catcher Brian McCann said.
Asked about Teheran's intent during Harper's next turn up, in the fifth, McCann answered: ``I'm not sure. I don't have the ball.'
When Harper went to the plate with Washington trailing 2-1, Teheran's first pitch hit him on the right leg. Harper barked at Teheran and pointed at the right-hander. McCann moved toward Harper, before an umpire got in the way.
``Obviously Bryce didn't like it, (and) we don't blame him,' Washington's Adam LaRoche said.
Members of both teams streamed onto the field, but they stayed separated and no punches were thrown.
``Boys being boys,' Fredi Gonzalez called it.
Not long after, the clubs' official Twitter feeds mixed it up a bit.
The Braves tweeted: ``Clown move bro,' tweaking Harper's famous retort to a reporter last season, ``That's a clown question, bro.'
The Nationals then replied on Twitter: ``Which part, giving up the home run, or drilling the 20-year-old on the first pitch his next time up?'
Teheran wound up allowing four hits and the lone run. He gave way to Luis Avilan, who got two quick outs to start the seventh. But then the Nationals loaded the bases on Harper's single up the middle, a throwing error by third baseman Chris Johnson and a walk.
That brought up cleanup hitter LaRoche, who got ahead in the count 2-0, then grounded meekly to first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Jordan Walden struck out three in the eighth, and Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth for his 35th save, getting Harper swinging at a 99 mph fastball to end it.
``There's no point in looking back and hanging our head. We've got two options now: We can cash it in and think about next year or we can grind it out and see what happens,' LaRoche said. ``I'm pretty sure we're going to keep pushing.'
Notes: The Nationals called up RHP Tanner Roark from Triple-A Syracuse, optioned LHP Xavier Cedeno back to the minors and moved LHP Ross Detwiler to the 60-day DL. ... Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman batted second in the starting lineup for the first time in his nine-year career.
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