ST. LOUIS -- An hour after watching his team be eliminated from the Wild Card race, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was sitting by his locker at Busch Stadium in full uniform, stunned that he is not going to the postseason this year.
After helping the Nationals to their first-ever NL East title last year, Harper, 20, thought going to the postseason would be a regular occurrence.
"I want to be in the playoffs every year. That's why you play this game. You work so hard in the offseason, you work so hard in Spring Training to get to this point," Harper said. "Not being able to get to the playoffs, it definitely hurts a little bit. I think everybody is going to remember this taste in their mouths and not want it back in their mouths again."
The Nationals were the early favorites to win a second straight NL East title this year, but injuries to Harper, for example, played a role in why the Nationals struggled this season. He missed more than a month after banging his left knee into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium on May 12.
Harper even had issues with his left hip that forced him to miss a few games. He doesn't know how he hurt the hip, but he started feeling pain in late July when the team was playing the Tigers in Detroit. For proof of Harper's impact, know that whenever he was in the lineup, the Nationals were 63-53. They went 21-22 without him.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm a game changer, but I know when I'm healthy and I know I'm feeling good, I can help my team win every single night," Harper said. "Taking those 30 games off absolutely killed me. But it was more trying to get my leg, my whole body better.
"It hurts not to get the 40 home runs, not being able to hit .300 and do the things I want to do. Hopefully, one day, I can do that. Hopefully, that starts next year."
Although, Harper missed a lot of games this year, manager Davey Johnson believes Harper made improvements on the field, especially on the defensive end.
"I think he has had a better year than last year," Johnson said. "His outfield play has gotten better, he is making better throws, better reads."
When he is healthy, don't even think about taking Harper out of the game or giving him a day off. He admits that he is not in the best of moods when that happens. Even when he is not right, his father, Ron, taught him to play through the pain.
"I don't want to do anything else. This is all I got. … This is what I want to do the rest of my life," Harper said. "I really have nothing else. I have family, I have baseball, and I have the man upstairs. That's all I really need. That's what I'm going to do.
"I'm going to try to do the best I can. To be the best, you have to play every single day, try to be in the lineup every single day, work as hard as you can every day. When Davey wants to take me out, I don't want to come out of the game because I might not be able to play the next day. That's how it is. I could walk across the street and be hit by a car. God forbid. That could happen. I love to play this game."
The season is coming to an end Sunday. Will Harper need surgery to repair any damage to his knee or hip? As of now, the answer is no. On a scale of one to 10, Harper said his knee is a nine.
"I'm going to see where I'm at. I'm going to take a month off and see how I feel," Harper said. "Of course, I'm going to work out and see where I'm at, see where I feel. … Nothing hurts. Right now, I don't think I need surgery. It's more maintaining. Everybody hurts at the end of the season. Of course, hitting that wall wasn't fun in L.A. I think this is all the aftermath from that. We'll see where I'm at after a month goes by."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.