Booed early, Harper has last word with late HR

Harper: I have the city of Philly behind me 'each and every night' (0:52)

Bryce Harper reflects on his first game back in Washington since signing with the Phillies in the offseason. (0:52)

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper didn't let a little bit of rain -- or a lot of boos -- ruin his homecoming.

Harper, the former Washington Nationals star who made his return to D.C. on Tuesday night as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, had to wait longer than expected to see how the crowd at Nationals Park would react.

Following a 41-minute rain delay, Harper stepped in against Washington ace Max Scherzer and was booed loudly by an abnormally large midweek April crowd of 35,920. Although there also was a smattering of applause throughout the stadium, which included several right-field sections full of Phillies fans who bused down from Pennsylvania, the predominant reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

After a prolonged pause that lasted longer than a minute, Harper proceeded to square off against Scherzer. With two runners on and nobody out in the top of the first inning, the Phillies slugger struck out on a 2-2 changeup. During his second at-bat in the top of the third, Harper was booed loudly once again by the standing crowd. With two outs and the bases empty, and the Phillies leading 1-0, Harper struck out a second time, fanning on a 3-2 cutter from Scherzer.

But from that point on, Harper would ensure he got the last laugh. In the top of the fifth, amid another chorus of boos, Harper finally got to Scherzer, lining a double to right field. When he arrived at second base, Harper smiled and waved exaggeratedly toward his Phillies teammates in the third-base dugout. Harper then delivered an RBI single to left in the top of the sixth off reliever Matt Grace, increasing Philly's lead to 6-0. After the play, the boisterous Phillies fans in right field started chanting "MVP" repeatedly, which was followed by a refrain of, "We've got Harper."

And in his fifth and final at-bat, facing Jeremy Hellickson in the eighth inning, Harper launched a mammoth, two-run homer into the second deck in right-center field, his third bomb of the season. He punctuated the blast with a monster bat flip in the direction of the Nationals dugout.

"I feel like it's a little different coming back here and getting booed," Harper said after Philadelphia's 8-2 win. "But for me, it's exactly like going to another ballpark and facing somebody that's lights out, electric, like Max, or going to New York and getting booed. It's the same thing for me. So, I got out there and try to play my game and understand I have teammates in that dugout that are going to pull for me every single day.

"I have the city of Philadelphia behind me each and every night. If I have that, then nothing else matters to me."

With the 458-foot jack, Harper now has two of the three longest home runs of the young season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On the night, he went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, helping Philadelphia improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1915.

"It was fun to compete against him," Scherzer said of Harper. "The crowd was really into it, more so than I thought it was going to be. I was just kind of feeding off the atmosphere of the crowd. He's a great hitter, and you have to make great pitches to get him out. You saw that tonight. I was able to get him a couple of times. But you make a pitch over the middle of the plate, he was able to get the bat to it and hit a double. It'll be fun to continue to compete against him."

In a twist of fate, because of the inclement weather, Harper's career as a Nationals Park visitor began in exactly the same way that his tenure as a resident there ended. During his last appearance in Washington, on Sept. 26, 2018, Harper was standing in the on-deck circle when rain halted the game after the final out of the seventh inning.

According to a Washington Post report Monday, it was during that September rain delay that Harper received an envelope containing a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nationals. Five months later, on March 2, the former MVP inked a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. Exactly one month after that, the 26-year-old outfielder returned to the nation's capital as a visitor for the first time.

Harper's name was greeted with boos during the announcement of starting lineups, and the jeering continued during the ensuing video tribute that played on the giant scoreboard in right-center field. The montage, which lasted just over a minute and featured clips of Harper receiving his MVP award, dedicating a local baseball field named for him and winning last summer's Home Run Derby in D.C., concluded with a message that read, "Thanks for the memories Bryce."

"Bryce is obviously a polarizing figure," Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I don't mean that in a bad way at all. That's the way he's been, whether he likes it or not, since he was 12 years old or whatever. That's just kind of been the way it's been for him his whole life. I've always said I think he does a good job of handling it because he's used to it. It's been that way ever since he's played baseball. I think he brings upon that type of response, whether it's boos or cheers or excitement, that's just how it's been for him his whole career."