On May 8, 2016, at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper became the first player in major league history to reach base seven times without an official at-bat. He also became the fourth player to be walked six times in a game. Harper was hit by a pitch the one time he didn’t walk.
The Nats’ young slugger didn’t even swing the bat in his seven trips to the plate. Cubs starter Jake Arrieta walked him on four pitches in the first. Harper took a strike before walking on a 3-1 pitch in the third. Ryan Zimmerman drove him in with a double, the only run Harper scored in a game the Nats lost in 13 innings.
In the fourth, with the Nats up 2-0 and runners on second and third with two outs, Arrieta walked Harper intentionally, but Zimmerman struck out.
Reliever Trevor Cahill hit Harper with the first pitch of the sixth, but he was stranded. With two outs in eighth, Cahill walked Harper on a 3-1 pitch. Zimmerman grounded to first.
Tied 3-3 at the end of nine, Adam Warren faced Harper in the top of the 10th with runners on first and second and intentionally walked him. Zimmerman lined out deep to left center to end the threat.
With runners on first and second again with two outs in the 12th, Harper was intentionally walked a third time, his sixth walk of the game.
On August 20, 1999, Jeff Bagwell was third player to draw six walks. Andre Thorton did it on May 2, 1984. Both of those games went 16 innings. Jimmie Foxx did it in nine innings on June 16, 1938.
Zimmerman grounded out to end the 12th, the third time he left the bases loaded. The Nats were 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position in the game. Zimmerman himself set a dubious record: He left 14 men on base, more than any player in any major league game of any length. Ouch.
Javier Baez’s homer in the 13th sent the Cubs to their seventh win in a row and the Nats to their fourth defeat in a row – all in Chicago.
The Cubs, determined not to let Harper beat them, walked him a record 13 times in the four games. Harper had 12 consecutive plate appearances without an official at-bat over three games. (He had a sacrifice fly on May 7.)
By the end of this game, he had walked 30 times in the Nationals’ first 31 games. He raised his on-base percentage 39 points to .432 over the four games in Chicago.
Yet how the Cubs handled Harper in this series seemed to set the tone for his season. Coming off his MVP year in which he hit .330 and led the league with 42 homers, Harper had 10 home runs and 26 RBIs in the Nats’ first 27 games in 2016. Although he had ended a 2-for-26 stretch with a homer and two RBIs the day before arriving in Chicago, he was held to a single and a run-scoring fly out in the four games.
Harper ended the season with 24 homers and a .243 batting average, down 87 points from 2015. His on-base percentage also was 87 points lower than his league-leading .460 the year before.
During his MVP season, Harper had set a similar weird record for a game in which he had no official at-bats. On September 3, 2015, at Nationals Park, he walked four times, not swinging at any of the 20 pitches he saw, and scored four runs. One of his walks came with the bases loaded, earning him an RBI. Harper was replaced with the Nats up 12-1 over the Braves in the sixth in a game that ended, 15-1. His box score line (0-4-0-1-4) made Harper the only player since runs batted in became an official stat in 1920 to draw four walks, score four runs and drive in a run without a hit.