Bryce Harper looked like a runaway freight train as he rounded first base in the fourth inning Wednesday night. He sprinted into second base with a dive, a cloud of dust, a safe call, a fist pump and a roar of appreciation from the Citizens Bank Park crowd.
Harper could have stopped at first base with a two-run single. But he saw daylight and, by now, you know he plays the game in the fast lane.
“That’s what the fans expect, that’s what I expect and I know my mom and dad are watching at home and that’s what they expect, too,” Harper said. “So you just have to play the game hard and play it right.”
Harper played the game hard, right and well in leading the Phillies to an 11-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals (see observations).
He had three hits, a single, double and homer on his way to a four-RBI night.
Three other Phillies, including Andrew McCutchen, homered in the game. McCutchen, the leadoff man, scored four of his team’s runs, one of them in the fourth inning when Harper busted it out of the box and turned what looked like a single into the 200th double of his career.
McCutchen said Harper’s hustle was inspiring.
“For sure,” he said. “It’s not something you see every day, especially from someone of his caliber. A lot of people would be fine with taking that single and a couple of RBIs and calling it a day, but he’s busting it out of the box, playing hard. That can hype a team up. It’s always great to see that. It’s motivating.”
Gabe Kapler sure liked it.
“That type of effort level is uncommon in a superstar of Bryce’s caliber,” Kapler said. “It’s not often you seen that combination of talent, grit, determination and all-out 100 percent hustle.”
Harper’s four RBIs helped make a winner of Aaron Nola, who is 6-0 with a 4.18 ERA in 12 starts. Nola delivered seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball.
The Phillies’ offense hits behind Nola — 60 runs when he has been in the game this season. Kapler said the team was confident and relaxed behind Nola and that led to production.
Speaking of relaxed, that is what Harper has tried to do at the plate the last two nights. He struck out three times in Milwaukee on Sunday. Since then, he has three doubles, a single, a homer and six RBIs in two games. He’s come alive at the plate because less is more. In short, he’s not swinging as hard.
“I had a conversation with (hitting coach) John Mallee during the game,” Kapler said. “I asked him what one thing he was seeing from Bryce. He said it was the lowest effort level we’ve seen from him all year. It’s something they’ve been working on together pretty diligently and it’s really paying dividends for Bryce right now.
“When your effort level is low, your muscles fire fast and you see the ball longer.”
Harper acknowledged reining in the effort on his swing, but he preferred not to go too deeply into it.
“I don’t want to get too much into it because I don’t want to think about it, to tell you the truth,” Harper said. “I was just trying to relax up there, get pitches in the zone and not swing at balls.
“I want to answer your question, but I don’t want to think about it, to tell you the truth. Just try to go up there and have good at-bats.”
The Phillies’ 12-hit attack left them a season-high 11 games over .500 with a chance to sweep the Cardinals on Thursday. Then it’s off to Los Angeles and three against the team with the best record in the National League. You know who has the second-best record, right?
“I don’t think we pay attention to where we’re at or what our record is,” McCutchen said. “We just try to show up and win.”
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