It was a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 5 of Sunday’s National League Championship Series. 4-3 A win over the San Diego Padres and a berth in the World Series, the franchise’s first since 2009. The Houston Astros or the New York Yankees await.
The blast marks Harper’s fifth season. At this point, he looks like a baseball approximation of 1928 Babe Ruth or 1977 Reggie Jackson as recently as October. He is hitting .419 with a 1.351 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’s the center of Phillies’ universe, his gravitas like a thousand suns.
Lefty Ranger Suarez retired Padres catcher Austin Nola on a flyball to right to end the top of the ninth — a hairy half-inning in which right-hander David Robertson was pulled after issuing back-to-back one-out walks — for the Phillies. Throwing their gloves in the air, they gathered in the center of the diamond for a victory celebration and raged into the night.
“We have four more!” Harper shouted from a podium built beyond second base, where he was presented with the NLCS MVP trophy. He mentions the number of wins remaining to secure the championship. “We’re going to bring this up [expletive] Home, boys!”
In the Phillies’ winning clubhouse, the first champagne bottles were lobbed in the face of manager Rob Thompson. For the sacked Joe Girardi In early June, the team had a 22-29 record, leading to a 65-46 record in other ways.
“It’s very special to me personally,” said Thompson, a new Major League manager but veteran of 37 seasons in professional baseball. “But there are a lot of guys in this club that don’t even make the playoffs [before this year]. … I am much happier for them than for others.
Those 87 regular-season wins were enough for the Phillies to sneak into a sixth straight season — a prize that didn’t even reach playoff expansion this year. But they’ve become a juggernaut in the postseason, blowing out three teams — the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves and now the Padres — that had a combined 22 games in the regular season. In three rounds, they are 9-2, including 5-0 at home.
“You can see us grow together and every time we get in … we have a chance to compete,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who is seeking his third World Series title, which he won with the Florida Marlins in 1997 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018. “Our stars have risen.”
The Phillies held a slim lead for most of the game thanks to Rhys Hoskins’ two-run homer in the third and six-plus innings by ace Zach Wheeler. But taking that lead home will be a painful task because of the Padres’ regression and deteriorating components.
Much of the game was played in light rain and a steady wind, shrouding the distant city’s skies in a blanket of eerie fog. A pair of red flags fluttered in a hazy breeze beyond the straightaway center between the Stars and Stripes and a giant LED Liberty Bell that lit up after Phillies homers and hits — marking 1980 and the only World Series titles in franchise history. 2008.
But it rained and grew slushy in the seventh, when the Padres scored a pair of runs to take a 3-2 lead. Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez scored the go-ahead run on the third wild pitch of the inning — tying his streak of 51 innings.
The tying run scored for Wheeler was scored by Padres designated hitter Josh Bell, who hit a right-off double to Dominguez. Pinch runner Jose Ashok took third, then Dominguez’s wild pitches to second and third. Suddenly, the Padres led by one run.
Major League Baseball took a gamble by trying to play Sunday, with light rain and a short window forecast to shut down a game. As the postseason schedule was shortened — the owners’ lockout delayed the start of the season — the traditional travel day between Games 5 and 6 of the championship series was obliterated. Had the Padres won on Sunday, the teams would have met again in San Diego on Monday night. A rainout on Sunday would have thrown the rest of the postseason schedule into disarray.
In a way, Harper’s homer — on a 99-mile sinker by the Padres’ Robert Suarez — took MLB off the hook for what would have been a much-scrutinized decision to play through a heavy rain in the seventh inning.
J.T. When Harper walked to first base after a single with Realmuto, an eerie silence descended on Citizens Bank Park. The Padres may have contributed to that feeling by not bringing in Josh Hader, who was the most hitless reliever in the game, and instead sticking with Suarez, who was in his second innings of work.
“At that point,” manager Bob Melvin said, “I had faith in Suarez.”
Harper, too, behaved like someone expected to do exactly what he did. He has celebrated other big hits with wild gestures and screams, as he did after his second RBI double in Game 4 on Saturday night. Here, he looked at his dugout, pointed to the word written across his chest – Phillies – and began his jog.
“No matter who’s on the mound, No. 3 is made for that type of moment,” Hoskins said. “He did it again. None of us were surprised.
The spring was miserable for the Phillies, who went two months without seeing the sunny side of .500, and their manager was fired. The summer started with a roar and ended with a whimper, with the Phillies offering little evidence of the postseason escape they’ve been waiting for.
But autumn? Fall has been incredible for these Phillies. Thanks in large part to Harper’s flaming bat, it’s going to be a bit longer than anyone here imagined a few weeks ago.
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