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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