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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Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday and it included six former Phillies of varying degrees of popularity. In fact, it's hard to even say which of the six is the most beloved in Philly. 

Bobby Abreu
Raul Ibanez
Cliff Lee
Scott Rolen
Curt Schilling
Billy Wagner

• At first glance, you might say Lee. He had great moments with the Phillies, memorable playoff games, and that low-key swag that drew fans to him. But things ended in a clunky way when he came back the second time. An elbow injury caused Lee to miss the final 1½ years of his contract and he was pretty much invisible during that time. He was also noticeably absent when the 2009 NL Championship team got together at Citizens Bank Park this past summer. The answer is still probably Lee, but it was a sour end for plenty of folks.

• Abreu is very well-respected around the game for being an ahead-of-his-time player with gaudy, well-rounded stats, but he was and still is polarizing around here. A portion of the fan base will always look at Abreu as an overrated compiler who was scared of walls. The other portion — it may be an even 50-50 split these days — appreciates the player Abreu was and realizes he'd be worth $200 million today.

• Phillies fans haven't forgotten Rolen's elite defense. Rolen was truly one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. But he orchestrated his way out of here and that is remembered equally, if not more so. 

• Schilling ... not delving into that one beyond an acknowledgment that his playoff performances were legendary, he had four excellent seasons and his post-playing career has been very strange.

• Ibañez was well-liked here and everywhere else he played. He may manage in the majors some day soon. He had an incredible first half in 2009, his first year with the Phillies, then was just slightly above average the rest of his three-year career with them.

• Phillies fans don't feel especially attached to Wagner, who was great here but lasted only two seasons. Unlike the other five on the list, Wagner should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. Wagner was a more dominant reliever than Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith. He had six seasons with an ERA under 2.00. He saved 422 games. He could have hung around for three more seasons to hit the arbitrary number of 500, which would have made him a Hall of Famer. Instead, Wagner retired on his terms after posting a 1.43 ERA for the Braves in 2010.

It will be interesting to see whether Abreu, a first-time candidate, gets the groundswell of support we've seen in recent years with players like Tim Raines.

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Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on Zack Wheeler, a right-hander who is seen as having much untapped potential.

The vitals

The very talented Wheeler has a big fastball — his career-high 96.8-mph average velocity was fourth-best in the majors among starting pitchers in 2019 — and excellent breaking stuff, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from blossoming into a star. He is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA lifetime. He was the No. 6 overall pick by San Francisco in the 2009 draft. He was traded to the Mets two years later for Carlos Beltran, who is now the Mets' manager. Wheeler will turn 30 in May.

Why he fits

His career is trending upward and a team might be getting him just as he’s about to put it all together. Wheeler has been mostly healthy the last two seasons, going 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA in 60 starts. He has pitched 182⅓ and 195⅓ innings, respectively, the last two seasons, a good sign after struggling with injuries early in his career. In both 2018 and 2019, he was one of the best in baseball after the All-Star break, going a combined 14-3 with a 2.26 ERA.

Wheeler also reached a career high by throwing a first-pitch strike 65.8 percent of the time, a top-10 mark that placed him ahead of Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

Given the supply and demand for starting pitching in the majors, Wheeler is headed for a big payday, but not as big as the top arms in this market. That might allow the Phils to spread around their dollars and fill multiple holes.

Why he doesn’t fit

From Charlie Morton in the starting rotation to David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter in the bullpen, the Phillies have been burned by injuries to free-agent pitchers. Wheeler missed significant time recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and 2016. He spent time on the injured list in 2017 and was briefly sidelined in 2019 with what was called shoulder fatigue. He rebounded quickly and was able to make 31 starts, but his health history can't be ignored.

The Phillies need to be protective of their high draft picks. They would surrender a second-round pick for the right guy. The question remains: Is the inconsistent Wheeler the right guy? When push comes to shove, the Phils would probably do it.

The price tag

Some team is going to bet on Wheeler being ready to reel off several years of good health and effectiveness. The industry feel is that Wheeler could come in somewhere between the four-year, $68 million deal that Nathan Eovaldi got from Boston last year and the six-year, $140 million that Patrick Corbin got from Washington. In other words, he could be looking at a $100 million payday. 

Scout’s take

“The velocity is intriguing. My concern is he gets hit too hard for the kind of stuff he has. He’s had some health glitches so that makes it a risk for the kind of money he’s going to get. But the raw stuff and potential are definitely there. It just depends on a team’s willingness to risk.”

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