WASHINGTON -- If Bryce Harper's tenure at Nationals Park is in fact over, it couldn't have ended in a weirder way.
With dark clouds looming overhead in what might have been his last home game as a member of the Washington Nationals, Harper was on deck when the seventh inning ended. But the heavens opened up before the eighth inning started and the game never resumed.
"I definitely don't like the rain now," Harper said following his team's abbreviated 9-3 win over the Miami Marlins.
He was dressed in street clothes, a stark contrast to his pregame attire. Three-and-a-half hours before first pitch, Harper was the only one in full uniform.
"It's definitely crazy walking in today and knowing this could be my last game at Nats Park in my white jersey," Harper said prior to the game. "It's definitely something that you're not sure how you're going to react, and not sure what it's going to be like, if that's after the game, or even before. I knew I wanted to get here and put the uni on right away and just cherish that moment, if it's going to be the last time or not."
Following his team's victory, manager Davey Martinez revealed that had the contest run its full course, his plan was to send Harper out to his usual post in right field in the top of the ninth, then send in a defensive replacement so that the hometown crowd of 28,680 could show its appreciation for the former MVP.
But Mother Nature had other plans.
"That's how it goes," Harper said after the game, during which he was greeted by a standing ovation in each of his four at-bats, but went hitless with a pair of strikeouts. "Like I said earlier, you never know what's going to happen in the offseason. You never know if I'm coming back or not. I tried to enjoy it the best I could today, and I did.
"I ran out to right field and did the same thing, did my bow and everything like that. I felt fine. I think just running out there, I wasn't really thinking about it being my last game or anything like that. Like I said earlier, you never know what's going to happen. So it really wasn't a farewell kind of treatment. It was just a normal day, going about the right way and trying to win. I was able to go out there and enjoy that, I guess, and not think too much about it being my last game or not being my last game. You never know what's going to happen. My heart lies here. If I'm going to play somewhere and have some fun and enjoy it, then hopefully those plans are for me to stay where I'm at. If I'm not, I'm not sure where it's going to be."
One thing that is for sure is that it's been a tough year for the Nationals. Expected to repeat as National League East champions and vie for a World Series title, Washington was officially eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend.
"It's not something you want to go through," Harper said of his club's disappointing campaign. "You have all the hopes and aspirations to be one of the best teams in baseball in spring training. We did what we could to possibly get there, but we didn't do enough. We've seen a lot of young talent come up and do a great job, so that's definitely a lot of fun to see. It's just something that happens. It's part of baseball. Sometimes you're going to win, and sometimes you're going to lose."
As the losses mounted during the first half of the season, and despite numerous injuries to key players, much of the blame fell on Harper and his offensive struggles. At the All-Star break, the 25-year-old outfielder had 23 homers and 54 RBIs but was hitting just .214 with 102 strikeouts.
Following a dramatic Home Run Derby victory in front of his hometown fans in D.C., Harper turned things around. Entering play on Wednesday, he was hitting .298 since the break and had posted a .985 OPS that is more than 150 points higher than his first-half mark. On Monday against Miami, he collected his 100th RBI of the season, the first time in his career that he has reached triple digits.
"I just stuck with the plan," the six-time All-Star said of his strong finish. "Never worried. Never got down or anything like that. Broke a few helmets, broke a few bats, but that's part of it. Just tried to grind the best I could and had a lot of great teammates around me and plugging me along. Never gave up. Having a great manager in there that saw things happen every single day and really had the faith in all of us to pull forward, and just tried to do that every single day for him and this team."
Whichever team Harper signs with in free agency, he's expected to challenge Giancarlo Stanton's record for the largest contract in MLB history, a $325 million deal handed out by the Marlins after the 2014 season.
Regardless of where Harper winds up next season and beyond, the Nationals have two of the game's most promising young outfielders in Rookie of the Year candidate Juan Soto and top prospect Victor Robles. Both figure to play prominent roles for Washington in the future, just as they did in Wednesday's win. Robles went 4-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs out of the leadoff spot, while Soto collected a pair of hits and scored a run.
Harper and the Nationals travel to Colorado this weekend for a season-ending three-game series with the Rockies.