Red Sox

Harper wins HR Derby over Schwarber in thrilling fashion

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Harper wins HR Derby over Schwarber in thrilling fashion

WASHINGTON -- The ball cleared the center field wall, and the sellout crowd roared. Bryce Harper threw his bat in the air, thrust both index fingers skyward and yelled with delight as a shower of streamers rained upon the crowd of 43,698.

It could have been a scene from a playoff game. That it was merely the All-Star Home Run Derby mattered not to Harper or the Washington Nationals fans, who were thrilled to see their hometown hero deliver the night's final longball Monday.

In the midst of it all - and in the middle of trying season - Harper grabbed the microphone and said: "This crowd: Wow! Washington Nationals, baby!"

With an exceptional display of power and clutch hitting, Harper rallied in the final round, connecting on pitches from his father to beat Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs 19-18.

Harper hit the contest-winning blast in extra time, the reward for hitting two homers at least 440 feet during the 4 minutes of regulation. After he connected with the game winner, the Nationals star immediately went into celebration mode.

"We have some of the best fans in all of baseball, and to be able to that with my family out there, that's an incredible moment, not only for me but for the organization and the Nationals fans," Harper said.

Harper's teammate, Max Scherzer, the NL starter on Tuesday night, also appreciated the moment.

"It's awesome. Hometown," Scherzer said. "The crowd is behind him. He found some rhythm, kept it simple and just continued to hit home run after home run."

Wearing a headband that resembled the District of Columbia flag and displaying a right sleeve with stars and stripes, Harper trailed 18-9 with 1:20 left before rallying. He homered on nine of his last 10 swings before entering extra time.

The six-time All-Star arranged to have his dad, Ron, pitch to him in the annual contest on the eve of the All-Star Game. That made the victory even sweeter.

"I'm only as good as my BP guy," Harper said with a grin.

Hours before the session, Harper spoke excitedly about having his dad pitch to him in the contest. The 25-year-old said his father "worked his tail off every single day to provide for me and my family" and "now being able to have him throw to me in a big league ballpark is the cherry on top."

Afterward, Ron Harper said of his son: "He did great. So I'm really proud of him. He's a great kid. You couldn't ask for anything better."

It's been a tough year for Harper, who's hitting only .214 for the disappointing Nationals. He won a contest that many sluggers avoid, fearful it might wear them out and throw them off.

He can only hope this helps him get back into the swing.

The 2015 NL MVP beat Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Max Muncy of the Dodgers before trumping the fifth-seeded Schwarber, who put the pressure on with a solid outing before Harper stepped to the plate.

"As soon as I got done with that round I told myself that (Harper) had it," Schwarber said. "I knew that he had the home crowd behind him."

Harper, who has 23 home runs this season, advanced to the final with an astonishing spree of longball hitting. He trailed Max Muncy of the Dodgers 12-4 with 2:20 left, then peeled off six homers in 47 seconds before calling a timeout.

Harper returned to hit three more home runs in 22 seconds, the last of them inside the right-field foul pole.

The semifinal matchup between Schwarber and Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins went down to the final swing. After stunning top-seed Jesus Aguilar of Milwaukee in the opening round, the eighth-seeded Hoskins ripped 20 long balls to put the pressure on Schwarber.

Using a late surge, Schwarber pulled one ball after another over the right field wall to squeeze out a 21-20 victory - by far the highest-scoring matchup of the night.

The fans dutifully cheered most home runs during the first round, but they saved their loudest cheers for Harper, the last player to step to the plate.

After Freeman hit 12 home runs over the 4-minute span, Harper unleashed six shots of at least 440 feet and secured the victory with a drive to center long before the clock expired. As the ball cleared the wall, the left-handed hitting Harper walked out of the batter's box and thrust both arms in the air.

Milwaukee's Aguilar, the NL home run leader at the break, was eliminated in the opening round by Hoskins 17-12.

Aguilar hit too many balls to straightaway center, where the wall stands over 400 feet from the plate. Hoskins pumped most of his drives into the left-field seats, where it's 336 feet down the line.

The most thrilling first-round match featured a near buzzer-beater by Houston's Alex Bregman, who fell to Schwarber 16-15. The difference was the pair of homers that Schwarber hit during 30 seconds of extra time.

Bregman - the lone AL representative - appeared defeated with a minute left, but he mounted a late surge and lost when his final swing produced a drive that landed at the base of the center-field wall.

Muncy advanced by defeating No. 6 seed Javier Baez of the Cubs, 16-15. Baez hit the longest shot of the Derby, a 479-footer.

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

PHILADELPHIA — Red Sox manager Alex Cora threw Brian Johnson’s name into the Red Sox MVP conversation before Tuesday’s game. From the sound of it, Cora was speaking more to the condition of being under-appreciated by the masses, of being a subtly important contributor.

Such discussion is a rabbit hole that leads to Average Al Horford hand-wringing and circular arguments about the need for the little things, as they say.

Here's fuel for the fire. On a night when Rick Porcello said that Sandy Leon is “the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to” — Leon not only homered, but ended the game with a fantastic play to finish a strikeout on a ball that got away — and on a night when Brock Holt also hit the Red Sox’ first pinch-hit home run of the season, here's another nominee for most under-appreciated member of the 2018 Red Sox. Porcello himself, the former Cy Young winner.

The most news Porcello has made in 2018 is for his double off Max Scherzer. Right?

He was at it again Tuesday night in a 2-1 Sox win over the Phillies. Hitting. He doubled again, finishing with a flop of a dive into second base in the third inning off starter Nick Pivetta. Everyone had a hoot.

“It was bad," Cora said. "It was really bad."

But Porcello is not making news outside of his slugging because he just doesn’t stand out like his rotation peers. 

Chris Sale is a monster. David Price is pitching well and never far from the spotlight. Nathan Eovaldi is the new guy with a perky cutter. Porcello’s just getting the job done, against every team that’s not the Blue Jays.

Except that description doesn’t aptly serve the strength of his season. With 10 strikeouts on Tuesday in seven innings, Porcello recorded his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance and his first since 2015. (Not 2016, his Cy Young season, but 2015.)

“Just pitched a lot better,” Porcello said, referring to his seven runs in four innings against the Jays in his previous outing. “You saw both games. I was throwing pitches right down the middle and walking guys in Toronto. Today for the most part I was able to stay out of the middle of the plate, not give up any free passes.”

He’s doing more than that, though. More than ever has in his career, Porcello is striking batters out — the currency for pitchers — now at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings. That’s better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (8.71), than Corey Kluber (8.57) and Jon Lester (7.03). It’s very close to David Price (8.98), Cole Hamels (9.11) and Zack Greinke (9.12).

Among 43 pitchers with 130 innings on the season as a starter, Porcello’s strikeout rate ranks 19th. His rebound from last year was expected, but not a given. 

This is the second straight season Porcello has improved his K rate, jumping from 7.6 per nine just two years ago. His walk rate is where it was last year, but he’s allowing fewer hits all-around, home runs included.

At 151 2/3 innings and a 4.04 ERA, Porcello has been a picture of middle-of-the-rotation steadiness. Even when he's not doubling.

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Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

PHILADELPHIA -- Brock Holt took advantage of a rare opportunity.

Holt belted a pinch-hit tiebreaking homer, Rick Porcello threw seven impressive innings and the major league-leading Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Tuesday night.

Sandy Leon also went deep for Boston, which improved to 86-35. The Red Sox increased their total to 168 homers, matching their number from last year when they hit an AL-low 168.

Porcello (15-5) gave up one run and two hits, striking out 10. He tied Max Scherzer and Luis Severino for most wins in the majors.

Rhys Hoskins homered, but the Phillies wasted a solid outing from Nick Pivetta. He allowed one run and three hits in six innings.

Holt hit the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter (3-2) in the eighth off the video screen on the facing of the second deck in right field.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Holt wouldn't have been used in that spot in an American League ballpark because he wouldn't have removed Porcello after only 90 pitches.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities to pinch-hit in the AL so I was in the cage, taking flips, staying loose, trying to stay more ready than normal," Holt said. "Just wanted to be ready for a good pitch to hit. Pinch-hitting is a tough job."

Heath Hembree tossed a perfect eighth, striking out Odubel Herrera swinging at a pitch that hit his left foot. Craig Kimbrel finished the two-hitter for his 36th save in 40 chances. He's 41 for 41 in interleague games in his career.

Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the third. The least dangerous hitter in Boston's lineup sent a 95 mph fastball into the seats in right-center for his fifth homer.

Porcello followed with a liner over right fielder Nick Williams' head and slid headfirst into second base for his second career extra-base hit.

"I got lucky," Porcello said.

Cora was afraid Porcello might get hurt when he saw him start to dive.

"That slide was horrible," Cora said. "He was ready to hit. He's a good athlete, he competes."

Porcello retired his first 12 batters before Hoskins drove his 23rd homer out to left in the fifth.

The Phillies have lost five of seven to fall into second place in the NL East behind Atlanta.

"I don't see us pressing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I see us competing and staying in the game to the end. We lost to one of the best teams in baseball."

CATCHER APPRECIATION

Porcello on Leon: "No disrespect to any catcher I've ever thrown to, but he's the best. He's the heartbeat of the pitching staff. He always knows what to throw. We rely on him. He's as good a game-caller as there is."

NL DOMINANCE

The Red Sox have won 20 of their last 23 interleague games.

ROSTER MOVES

The Phillies traded righty Jake Thompson to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash. Thompson was acquired in the trade that sent former ace Cole Hamels to Texas in 2015. He was 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA in 30 appearances, including 18 starts, in three seasons in Philadelphia. ... Former Phillies closer Hector Neris was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and infielder J.P. Crawford was sent down.

LINEUP SHUFFLE

Kapler moved Williams up to No. 2 and Asdrubal Cabrera to No. 3. Hoskins went from second to cleanup and Carlos Santana dropped from No. 4 to fifth in the order.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox:Blake Swihart was activated from the disabled list and C Dan Butler was designated for assignment. ... 2B Ian Kinsler could return Wednesday from a strained left hamstring.

Phillies: C Wilson Ramos was 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games for Single-A Clearwater and could join the lineup Wednesday. The two-time All-Star catcher hasn't played since being acquired from Tampa Bay on July 31 because of a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.74 ERA) makes his fourth start for the Red Sox since arriving in a trade from Tampa Bay while RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 3.98 ERA) goes for the Phillies on Wednesday night.

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