Harper screamed out in delight as he crossed the plate with Washington ahead at last. After all those extra innings and a subdued cross-country flight, the Nationals had broken through — with some help from Madison Bumgarner's big blunder.
Doug Fister pitched seven shutout innings and the Nationals capitalized on Bumgarner's one off-target throw, staving off elimination in the NL Division Series with a 4-1 win over the San Francisco Giants on Monday.
"Being able to get that momentum swing to us a little bit is definitely huge," said Harper, who also made a difficult running catch in the gap.
Fister dazzled again in San Francisco, helping the Nationals cut their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-five series. They ended the Giants' 10-game post-season winning streak that started with Game 5 of the 2012 NL Championship Series against St. Louis.
Washington scored two runs on Bumgarner's throwing error in the seventh inning to end the ace's 22-inning scoreless streak. Harper punctuated the victory with a solo homer in the ninth.
Drew Storen allowed the first two batters to reach in the bottom of the ninth but shook off his post-season struggles, allowing a run in closing it out as Washington forced a Game 4 on Tuesday night.
Now, the 96-win Nationals will send left-hander Gio Gonzalez up against San Francisco right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, hoping to pull out the fog machine they used after wins all season one more time.
"We just needed one break," Storen said. "It's been a tough couple innings here to start and we got our break. It's just a matter of building on it, and we live to see another day."
On a day Bumgarner had been nearly untouchable, his own miscue prevented a three-game sweep.
Bumgarner fielded Wilson Ramos' two-strike sacrifice bunt between the mound and the first-base line and fired to third rather than going for the sure out at first.
"We probably should have taken the out of first. I made a mistake telling him to throw to third," catcher Buster Posey said. "It happens."
Bumgarner's throw sailed wide of Pablo Sandoval's outstretched glove and bounced all the way to the tarp along the left-field wall before rolling over the bullpen mounds where two relievers were warming up.
Sandoval nearly did the splits trying to make the play and stayed down in pain as the two runs scored. Trainers checked on the third baseman and he remained in the game.
"That was an important play right now. In my mind I was like, 'I have to do it, have to do it,' Ramos said. "For me, that changed the whole game. Bumgarner threw a really good game. Those little things happen in games. If we do the little things, we'll have an opportunity to win this series."
Asdrubal Cabrera followed with an RBI single. He spent the final eight innings watching the Giants' 2-1, 18-inning victory Saturday night after his ejection for arguing a called third strike.
Fister outpitched Bumgarner at AT&T Park for the second time in four months after a June gem, leaving behind the frightening memory of his October outing here in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series. Fister took a line drive to the right side of his head that day — while also opposing Bumgarner — but stayed in the game and carried a shutout into the seventh before Detroit lost 2-0 and was swept.
Fister hardly needed that Japanese good luck figurine that appeared in the NL East champions' dugout Monday morning courtesy of backup catcher Jose Lobaton. The right-hander, who grew up about two hours away in the Central Valley city of Merced, gave up four hits, struck out three and walked three.
Storen, the beleaguered closer who gave up the tying run in Game 2, allowed Brandon Crawford's sacrifice fly in the ninth before finishing the 2-hour, 47-minute game. It was a far cry from Game 2, which took a post-season-record 6:23.
Five days after pitching a four-hitter in an 8-0 wild-card win at Pittsburgh, Bumgarner was on a roll again, this time for the orange towel-waving sellout home crowd of 43,627.
Ian Desmond singled to start the decisive seventh and Harper walked to bring up Ramos, who began the season as the Nationals' cleanup hitter. Harper slid into home for the second run, hopped up and hollered in triumph.
Bumgarner hadn't given up a post-season run since Carlos Beltran homered in the fourth inning of the Giants' Game 1 loss of the 2012 NLCS in St. Louis.
"I thought we probably had a shot," Bumgarner said of playing Ramos' bunt. "We were in a really good spot coming into this one."
Sandoval extended his post-season hitting streak to 14 games with a leadoff single in the second, the longest streak in Giants post-season history and currently in baseball.
Brandon Belt was caught stealing in the fourth, only the second time anyone tried to steal against Fister all year.
Anthony Rendon had two more hits and is 7 for 15 this series, while the rest of the Nationals starters minus the pitcher are 13 for 96 (.135).
Ryan Zimmerman's tender right hamstring didn't factor into Williams' decision not to start him. Instead, some Nationals left-handed hitters had previous success against Bumgarner and the first-year manager wanted to put the best defence behind Fister.
Posey is 3 for 14 (.214) against Gonzalez, while Sandoval is 1 for 10. The Giants are hitting .250 overall against the left-hander. Vogelsong has allowed the Nationals to hit .280 against him, with a .456 slugging percentage. Harper is 1 for 8 against the right-hander with four strikeouts. Span is 5 for 13 with two doubles and a triple against Vogelsong.