Significant moment No. 4: Harper's debut

Significant moment No. 4: Harper's debut
December 28, 2012, 7:30 am
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Remembering 2012: Harper called up to the majors

As we count down the final days of 2012, we're also counting down the Nationals' five most significant moments of the year. It all culminates on Dec. 31 with your vote for the most significant moment of 2012. Today we focus on Moment No. 4: Bryce Harper's debut...

The Nationals never intended to promote Bryce Harper to the big leagues quite so soon. Sure, they were confident the 19-year-old would make an impact at the highest level of the sport at some point in 2012, but the plan was to hold off a bit longer, perhaps until June or July before summoning the game's top prospect from Class AAA.

But after a spate of early season injuries to, among others, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse, general manager Mike Rizzo felt he had no choice but to promote Harper on April 28 and give the kid a chance to play every day for a team that had already stormed out of the gates to seize first place in the NL East.

"Suffice it to say, this isn't the coming-out party for Bryce that we had in mind," Rizzo said in announcing the roster move one day earlier. "This isn't the optimal situation developmentally for Bryce."

Rizzo even went so far as to suggest Harper could be sent back to Syracuse once Zimmerman returned from the disabled list two weeks later.

Suffice it to say, that demotion never happened, in part because of the dynamic debut performance Harper put forth over 21 hours in Los Angeles.

He laced a double off the wall in center field in his third at-bat. Not long after, he fired a perfect strike to the plate from left field, flashing his laser of a right arm. And he delivered his first career RBI at a most opportune moment, lofting a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth to bring home what would have been the game-winning run if not for a Henry Rodriguez meltdown in the bottom of the inning.

The next afternoon, Harper delivered his second career hit, this one off a left-hander. And he made a spectacular catch in center field, crashing into the sky blue wall at Dodger Stadium to rob Juan Uribe of extra bases.

Making his two-day performance all the more impressive was the fact he did it under an immense spotlight, on the road in a hostile environment that featured one fan mooning Harper from behind the plate and another rushing the field and running toward the rookie outfielder before being tackled by police.

A throng of media converged on Harper in the visitors' dugout prior to his first game and never disappeared. A national television audience tuned in late on a Saturday night to watch this hyped-up event.

And perhaps the calmest person in the entire stadium was the 19-year-old making his big-league debut.

"I didn't have butterflies at all, really," Harper said. "I think that's one of the first times I've ever not gotten butterflies."

It was merely a precursor to what we would see from Harper over the next six months, one of the great seasons ever produced by a teenager.

And it merely set the stage for the career of a true phenom whose ceiling appears to be limitless.