Oh, what a night! Bryce Harper's heroics give Phillies their biggest win in years

Oh, what a night! Bryce Harper's heroics give Phillies their biggest win in years

If the Phillies can somehow rally down the stretch and make the postseason, they will look back to these three nights in August as the time when it all came together, when their offense started to click with big hits, when they started to build some confidence, when Bryce Harper came alive at the plate and saved their season.

Harper delivered the season’s biggest hit, a grand slam with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, to cap a six-run rally and give the Phillies a dramatic 7-5 victory and a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at rockin' Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night.

The Phillies did nothing against Cubs starter Yu Darvish for seven innings. He left with a 5-0 lead at just 92 pitches. Manager Joe Maddon said Darvish was out of gas and the pitcher concurred.

“I was happy he came out,” Harper said. “I think we all were.”

The Phils eked out a run in the eighth then put five straight runners on base in the ninth on an error, three singles and a hit batsman.

Now, it was Harper’s turn.

With the bases loaded, Maddon brought in lefty Derek Holland, recently released by the San Francisco Giants, to face Harper.

It was just the type of situation John Middleton envisioned when he spent $330 million to sign Harper in February, just the type of opportunity that Harper craves.

“I love it,” Harper said. “Before I went up to the plate, I was thinking to myself and touched my heart, ‘Why am I not jittery? Why am I not excited?’ But that’s just how I am. I go up there and each at-bat is the same. I don’t worry about bases loaded or a guy on first or anything like that. I just try and get a pitch over the plate that I can handle and hopefully good things can happen.

“I love those moments. I love those opportunities. I think it helped a lot from a young age, going through those emotions and having those opportunities at 8, 9, 10 years old in big-time games and going to different states and cities and playing for different teams with guys that I didn’t know with expectations and things like that. I just love it. These fans do expect that. And I expect to do that for them on a nightly basis. If I don’t, they are going to be there to let me know. I like that, too.”

Harper got a 2-2 fastball on the inner part of the plate and clubbed it deep into the night. It landed in the second deck down the right-field line.

The crowd erupted in glee.

The Phillies dugout erupted in glee.

Harper erupted in glee. He ran so fast around the bases — “I wanted to get to the plate and celebrate with my teammates,” he said — that he nearly caught the man in front of him, Rhys Hoskins.

“I looked up and I was jumping up and I started to jog and as I was turning second base I looked to see where he was at, what kind of reaction he was having, and he was like halfway to second base and I was just touching second base,” Hoskins said. “I did not see it land. Bryce was sprinting so I had to make sure I hit home plate before he did.”

As Harper reached home plate on a dead sprint, he spiked his helmet and was doused with water. He received a beatdown for the ages.

“I think it was the best win of the season,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It was definitely the most energizing. I don't think anybody feels any fatigue right now. It was because of that inning. The guys getting on base in front of Bryce and Bryce doing the damage that he did.

“Probably as enjoyable as watching the home run was watching guys embrace and watching guys celebrate together. They fight so hard just to get an opportunity to have a moment like that. To actually have it come to fruition, a walk-off grand slam to win a game against the Cubs in a playoff race, it was as dramatic a game as I've been a part of.”

The Phils are just a game back in NL wild-card race.

Harper was actually down, 0-2, in the count before evening it up against Holland.

Miller was on third base when the ball rocketed off Harper’s bat.

“That was Incredible,” Miller said in the euphoric post-game clubhouse. “That was one of my favorite moments I’ve had in the big leagues. That was awesome.”

The Phillies’ rally got starting pitcher Drew Smyly off the hook after he allowed seven hits, including two homers, and five runs in five innings.

Smyly was in the clubhouse with several teammates watching the ninth inning on television. There was a delay on the broadcast so they heard the roar of the crowd a couple of seconds before Harper’s big swing.

“We knew something good happened,” Smyly said. “Then he just launched it up to the moon. What a way to end a game. It was awesome. We were screaming and yelling.”

Harper is on fire at the plate. He has seven homers and 15 RBIs in his last 12 games. He homered three times and drove in seven runs in the final two wins against the Cubs. His 25th homer of the season came with Charlie Manuel in the dugout on his second day as hitting coach. It might have been the biggest homer that any Phillie has hit since Manuel skippered the club in the championship years.

“That's why you sign one of the best players in baseball,” Kapler said. “That's why you spend so much time and energy trying to get him to come to Philadelphia.

“Bryce ultimately deserves all the credit for having ice water in his veins in that moment and staying relaxed. One of the things we've talked about is staying loose and relaxed and confident. 

“I think this could serve as a foundation for success going forward. It can certainly provide a lot of momentum for us.”

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How Phillies would have matched up this week against Mets

How Phillies would have matched up this week against Mets

Let’s say we’re beginning the first full week of the Major League Baseball season (hey — we can dream, can’t we?). That would mean your Fightin’ Phils would find themselves in Queens, NY visiting the Mets for the first of three games at Citi Field.

The Mets, with 86 wins, finished five games ahead of the Phillies (81-81) in 2019. New York made a nine-game improvement from 2018 (77-85) while the Phillies won just one more game — in part leading to manager Gabe Kapler’s dismissal.

BUT ... the Phils took 12 of 19 in the season series last year against New York.

The Mets' rotation is fairly strong (Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello) and that’s with Noah Syndergaard out for the season after Tommy John surgery last week.

They’ve got a pretty strong bullpen with Robert GSELLman (fun to say) in middle relief and Edwin Diaz closing.

How is New York’s 1 through 8?

Pretty good. They’re young and have the young All-Stars, Jeff McNeil and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, at the top and middle of the order. Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes are big keys — Cano was irrelevant in 2019 and Cespedes was hurt. In all, there are five current or former All-Stars in the lineup for the Mets this season.

The Mets would be in the midst of a season-opening five-game homestand. The Phillies were supposed to be in Miami and New York before coming back to Philly for Thursday's home opener against the Brewers. Oh well.

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The Phillies' 20-inning win vs. the Dodgers in 1993 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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The Phillies' 20-inning win vs. the Dodgers in 1993 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

The 1993 season will always hold a special place in the hearts of Phillies fans. The Dude, Dutch, Krukker, and the Wild Thing took us on a magical ride all summer. They swept the Astros in Houston the opening series and never looked back, racing to the finish line while never relinquishing at least a share of 1st place all season in the old National League East (this was the last year of the old 2-division set-up in each league). So many games and moments stand out from that season. I was lucky to be at one of those games, one that turned out to make some Veterans Stadium history on July 7, 1993, when the Phillies hosted the Dodgers.
That summer I was working in the Fieldhouse at St. Joe's, doing whatever they needed me to do around the offices. The legendary Don DiJulia, our Athletic Director for over 3 decades who retired in 2018, asked me if I could use his tickets to the Phillies game that night. Always down for a trip to the Vet, I said yes. I called my friend Joe (future Catholic League coach of the year) and within an hour we were in South Philly. Our lives were so much simpler then.
Because Mr. D's son Chris (a local legend among basketball folks in his own right) has special needs, one of the tickets was for the handicapped section down the LF line, the last section in the 200 level next to the visitor's bullpen. We met up with my friend and Joe's cousin Mountain (his real name, and now the head coach for LaSalle women's basketball), and settled in for some baseball. We had no idea we'd be there for over 6 hours.
The game went like a lot of games that year. Kruk and Dykstra both hit HRs off of Dodgers starter Ramon Martinez. In the bullpen, we could see Martinez's skinny (I mean SKINNY) little brother Pedro warming up. Looked like he threw pretty hard. I wish I could tell you at the time I knew he would fill out (slightly) and become the Hall of Famer we knew and loved. But back then, he was just Ramon's little brother. The Phillies took a two-run lead into the 9th, and in came Mitch Williams. When Mitch entered, you never knew what would happen. But that year, he ended up with 43 saves. You knew it wouldn't be 1-2-3, but you had a little more confidence in '93. Unfortunately, this was not a night he recorded one of those saves. The Dodgers scored 2 runs, and might have scored more, if not for a nice play in the hole by SS Kevin Stocker, who was making his major league debut. Quite a game to break into the big leagues, kid.
We then watched 10 innings of scoreless baseball. Future All-Star closer Mike Williams ended up pitching the last 6 for the Phillies. Phanavision must've been running out of inventory because in between every inning they showed a promo for the Notre Dame-Navy football game that would be played at the Vet that fall. My friend Joe is a huge ND fan, and by the 19th inning, he noticed the Dodgers bullpen catcher saluting Phanvision when they showed the promo. Since we were right next to the bullpen, he started talking to the guy as he entered the pen below us. Turns out, he had played baseball for the Irish, so him and Joe talked some Notre Dame football.
The Dodgers scored a run in the top of the 20th. But the only thing I remember about that inning is that Mike Williams picked Cory Snyder off at 3RD BASE! Just a straight-up pick-off move, as if a lefty would pick someone off at 1st base. I don't think I've ever seen someone do that, at any level, before or since. It also reminds me that the Dodgers had some stars from the 80's on this team. Snyder was on the cover of Sports Illustrated baseball preview one year (with a teammate. Think his name was Joe Carter. Not sure whatever happened to him). Tim Wallach played 3rd and made a handful of All-Star teams with the Expos before landing in LA. And they had Eric Davis playing in LF. To anyone who grew up a baseball fan in the 80's, he was one of the coolest and most productive players we got to watch when he was in Cincinnati. After some injuries and playing on so much artificial turf, he was no longer Eric the Red, but still smooth as could be.

In the bottom of the 20th, the Phils put a couple men on base. With 2 outs, Lenny Dykstra stepped to the plate. That year, you wouldn't want any other Phil at the plate with the game on the line. For some reason, the Dodgers pitched to him with a base open. He laced a liner to LF, and I can still see Davis coming or way, tracking it down. Not many left-fielders would've had a chance at it, but this was Eric Davis. But the ball just missed his outstretched glove, landed on the warning track, and then hopped over the wall and into the Dodgers bullpen. Phils win. It tied the longest game, by innings, in the history of the Vet. And the ND guy, being the only guy left in the bullpen, picked the ball up and flipped it up to Joe (he still has it).
Pretty amazing finish to a pretty amazing game in a pretty amazing season. 

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