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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Matt Kemp's 10th-inning blast wins it for Dodgers

After Chad Billingsley and Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg duel for seven innings, the All-Star center fielder follows a wild ninth inning with a solo home run, a club-record 11th in April, for a 4-3 victory.

April 28, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez

What started as a welcoming party for the current top prospect in baseball ended as a celebration of the top player in the game today.

Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old outfielder, collected his first hit in his major league debut with the Washington Nationals on Saturday night. He drove in his first run on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly that ended a tie.

But this game belonged to Matt Kemp, who drove a fastball by Tom Gorzelanny high over the center-field wall in the 10th inning, lifting the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory over the Nationals.

The 54,242 fans who were drawn to Dodger Stadium by the promise of Harper, bobblehead dolls and visiting pitcher Stephen Strasburg stood on their feet and cheered: "M-V-P! M-V-P!"

After touching the plate, Kemp ran to the backstop and reached through to net for his mother's hand.

"It feels great," Kemp said. "Winning feels great, especially in that fashion."

The home run was Kemp's 11th, more than any Dodger has hit in an April. The previous record of 10 was set by Gary Sheffield in 2000.

The Dodgers improved to 15-6, breaking a tie with the Nationals for the best record in the National League.

If not for Nationals closer Henry Rodriguez's meltdown, this would have been a dream debut for Harper.

Harper drove in what appeared would be the winning run in the ninth inning, ending a 1-1 stalemate with a sacrifice fly against embattled closer Javy Guerra to drive in Rick Ankiel. The Nationals added a run on a single by Wilson Ramos.

But Rodriguez couldn't hold the 3-1 advantage. He threw three wild pitches, including one that allowed Juan Uribe to score the equalizing run.

Strasburg, armed with a 100-mph fastball, appeared at Dodger Stadium for the first time and pitched up to his reputation. He and Dodgers counterpart Chad Billingsley each held their opponents to a run over seven innings.

But Harper was the main attraction.

This was clear at batting practice. The crowd behind home plate was several times its normal size. Former Dodger Ron Cey stood behind the cage as Harper hit. So did Steve Garvey.

Garvey, the former Dodgers first baseman, coached Harper as a 15-year-old on a Palm Desert-based travel team called the Dodgers.

"If you like Josh Hamilton, you'll really like Bryce Harper, in terms of athletic ability and power," Garvey said.

This kind of attention was nothing new for Harper, who was a Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16.

"I'm actually not very nervous right now," Harper said before the game.

He recalled feeling underwhelmed Friday morning when his triple-A manager told him he was being called up.

"I thought I'd have a different reaction to everything," he said."

Dodgers utilityman Jerry Hairston was in the Nationals' spring-training camp with Harper last year and raved about Harper's potential.

"I see a lot of Jay Bruce, Larry Walker," Hairston said. "Everybody talks about being a veteran. But you know what? Talent wins out. He has talent."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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