“It’s been a show for quite awhile”

Bryce Harper

Philadelphia’s king of swing launches one into the second deck Thursday night.

When April was just about over, Bryce Harper resembled dead meat. He’d just been nose-coned by an errant Genesis Cabrera fastball, and it turned out worse for him. No, his schnozz wasn’t smashed, but the pitch ricocheted onto his left wrist.

After an April that finished with him showing a 1.063 OPS Harper’s May was abbreviated to fifteen games and a .634 OPS to show for them. Clearly enough the lefthanded launcher struggled through the injury, making far less than his normal hard contact, and probably should have been tied down to rest and let it heal properly.

Finally, after an 0-for-5 game on 22 May, Harper was indeed put on the injured list. Phillies manager Joe Girardi got caught lying through his teeth about the depth of Harper’s wrist injury. Some believed the Phillies would rather “engage in subterfuge to trick the opposing manager than play with an actual full roster.”

One way or the other, for all the tricks and lack of treats, Harper clawed his way back. All the way back to awakening this morning with the major league leadership in OPS (1.055) and OPS+ (183). All the way back to the rare standing of a .300+/.400+/.600+ slash line. (Harper’s: .314/.428/.627.)

All the way back into the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award conversation. All the way back from that balky wrist to entering a weekend set against the Mets as Philadelphia’s king of swing.

All the way back to helping as big as Harper can help in yanking the Phillies back to three games behind the Braves in the National League East and 2.5 games away from the second National League wild card.

If you wonder how big that can be at the most extreme, you should have watched the Phillies resurrect themselves against the Cubs, 17-8 Thursday night—with Harper doing the critical damage, especially a mammoth home run in the seventh.

So the Cubs battered seven runs out of the Phillies in the top of the third? The Phillies tore seven out of the Cubs in the bottom of the fourth. The Cubs who thought they had it made after the third didn’t know yet that they’d all but had it for the night.

Harper had already walked twice in the game when he squared off against Cub reliever Manuel Rodrigez in the bottom of the sixth with first and second and one out. On 1-2 he hit a long double sending Odubel Herrera home with the tiebreaking run. One out later, Didi Gregorius—who’d been drilled by a Cabrera pitch immediately after Harper took one off his beak in that late April game—singled Juan Segura and Harper home to make it 10-7, Phillies.

The next inning, after Willson Contreras got one back for the Cubs with a homer in the top of the frame, Harper got even more frisky. After Herrera doubled a pair home with one out, Harper faced yet another Cub reliever, Rex Brothers, and showed anything but brotherly love with first and third—he hit a three-run homer.

Segura merely added insult to injury with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth. The Cubs, who’ve been dying since their trade deadline fire sale, gave up the ghost several innings earlier.

They must have wondered whether they’d been a little too greedy over apparent Phillies generosity in that seven-run third. Phillies starter Matt Moore walked the bases loaded and then hit Ian Happ with a pitch to start the Cub fun. Contreras then lined Rafael Ortega home, Patrick Wisdom sent a two-run double to the back of left center, and—one strikeout later—Matt Duffy hit one over the left center field fence.

The Phillies must have said to themselves, “Greed shall be its own downfall” in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen started that party with a two-run double down the right field line. A base hit and a hit batsman later, Matt Joyce wrung Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks for a bases-loaded walk. Herrera drove Brad Miller home with a base hit, and Freddy Galvis scored on a ground out, before Harper drew his second walk and J.T. Realmuto singled Joyce and Herrera home.

The full fifth and the top of the sixth passed cleaner than hounds’ teeth before Matt Vierling opened the bottom with a base hit up the pipe. After Herrera reached on an error at first base and Segura forced Vierling at third, Harper hit one the other way down the left field line to break the seven-all tie, before coming home with Segura when Grigorius shot one through the hole at shortstop into left.

Those were just warmups for what proved the main attraction in the seventh, with Herrera on third, Segura on first, and Harper hitting Brothers’s first pitch into the second deck behind right field.

“It feels good,” Harper said post-game, “but we’ve got a while to go. I want to keep playing well and have good at-bats, have good games and just be where we need to be down the stretch.”

“We’re all involved in this, right? And the game is always, to me, about our team,” Girardi said. “But he’s a big reason why we’ve hung around, just because of the season that he’s had and the last two-and-a-half months, whatever he’s done. It’s been incredible to watch. It’s been a show for quite awhile.”

“The challenge,” writes The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb, “has always been squeezing enough from the roster around Harper. It is flawed and will continue to be flawed even if the Phillies sneak into the postseason. It will not dampen the doubts about the organization’s long-term plan. But Harper has given the Phillies everything he promised, and the rest of the franchise has seventeen days to make it count for something.”

Neither Girardi nor the Phillies want the show to end. It might or might not be just a sliver outside possibility’s realm. But in theory, at least, they could even reach the postseason by a nose.

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