LOS ANGELES -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper made his Major League debut on Saturday night, and he was a factor in the game. Unfortunately, the Nationals lost, 4-3, on a 10th-inning home run by Matt Kemp in front of a sellout crowd of 54,242.
It's only April, but it felt like a playoff game in October. The game was tied at 3 when Kemp swung at a 1-2 pitch from left-hander Tom Gorzelanny and homered over the center-field wall for his 11th home run of the season. It was the seventh walk-off home run of his career.
"That [stunk]," Harper said about Kemp's homer. "Seeing him hit a bomb was terrible, but he is a great player, a great hitter. He is hitting like [.442] with 11 jacks and 24 RBIs. Hopefully, he has a good year. All the blessings to him."
Prior to the home run, the Nationals pitched carefully to Kemp, who went a combined 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk against Stephen Strasburg and Tyler Clippard. No such luck with Gorzelanny on the mound.
"He left it out over the plate," manager Davey Johnson said about Gorzelanny. "You have to miss away or come hard in on him. Kemp is obviously in heat. You can't make those mistakes to him. We pitched him good all night. ... We pitched to him like they pitched to us [before the 10th inning]."
It was a game in which Strasburg was dominating. He pitched seven innings, allowed one run on five hits, and struck out nine batters without walking a batter. Strasburg, who is on an innings limit of 160 this season, threw 101 pitches.
"Stras was throwing so good, he could have gone further, but he might be out of innings by the All-Star break if I let him go to what he is capable of going to," Johnson joked. "That's a cloud over me."
Strasburg was given a 1-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning when Adam LaRoche swung at a 3-1 pitch and hit his fourth home run of the season, off Chad Billingsley, a solo shot over the right-field wall.
But Washington couldn't hold onto the lead, as Los Angeles tied the score in the seventh inning. With runners on first and second and one out, A.J. Ellis singled to left field. Harper made a perfect throw to the plate, and it appeared that Jerry Hairston Jr. was going to be out, but catcher Wilson Ramos dropped the ball, and that allowed Hairston to score the tying run.
The replay showed that Hairston swiped the ball out of Ramos' glove. Manager Davey Johnson argued the call, to no avail.
"[Hairston] smacked the ball. He is out. We couldn't get any help [from the umpires]," Johnson said. "They obviously didn't see it."
Hairston saw the play differently.
"I slide like that all the time," said Hairston. "It's an aggressive slide, and it so happens I hit his glove. It happens."
Washington then scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning off reliever Javy Guerra. With runners on first and third with one out, Harper hit a sacrifice fly to left fielder Tony Gwynn Jr., scoring Rick Ankiel. It was Harper's first career RBI.
Ramos followed and singled to drive in Danny Espinosa to make it a two-run game.
But the Dodgers rallied and tied the score against closer Henry Rodriguez. With runners on first and third and no outs, Juan Uribe doubled near the left-field line to drive in Mark Ellis.
After A.J. Ellis struck out, Adam Kennedy hit into a fielder's choice, but then Rodriguez threw a wild pitch, scoring Uribe.
Johnson hinted that a three-day layoff hurt Rodriguez. Although Rodriguez was having problems on the mound, Johnson thought Rodriguez would get out of the inning.
"Uribe hit one heck of a curveball," Johnson said. "In a tough situation, [Rodriguez] battled back and got two outs. He was one pitch away from getting us out of it. I was proud of him. ... He battled back."
As for Harper, he went 1-for 3 with the sacrifice fly. He doubled to left-center in his third at-bat for his first big league hit.
"He had an outstanding game. There was nothing I didn't know," Johnson said about Harper. "He had quality at-bats. He made one hell of a throw, running hard."
Harper found himself in a full count in his third time facing Billingsley, and hit a double over Kemp.
"I wish we would have gotten the W, of course." Harper said. "We played a great team today. Billingsley threw a great game. We fought until the end. That's not the way you want to start off your career. I just wish we got a W."
A nice debut for Harper, but a heartbreaking loss for the Nationals.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.