Prior to launching the biggest home run in franchise history yesterday, Bryce Harper had already had quite a few big moments in a Phillies uniform.
No one will ever forget his walk-off grand slam against the Chicago Cubs in 2019. This year’s game-tying grand slam against the Angels during their nine-game winning streak was memorable, too. But when you come to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning of a series clinching NLCS Game 5 trailing by a run, with the hopes of your teammates and the pleas and dreams of an entire city weighing on your shoulders, to come through in that moment and deliver is not hero stuff.
It’s superhero stuff.
And by the time Harper finished trotting around the bases, his invisible cape flapping in the rain-soaked wind behind him, the Phils had just three outs left to punch their ticket to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2009.
Bryce Harper, but Moneyball pic.twitter.com/9b4glvpTua— Red October Muse (@Phillies_Muse) October 24, 2022
There were so many heroes in this National League Championship Series, won by the Phillies in five tense, back-and-forth games against a worthy San Diego Padres team that made them earn every victory over the last week.
Let’s face it... this moment wasn’t just a great event in Philadelphia sports history, it was a great moment in sports history. It even left hard-scrabbled baseball scribes to smirk in awe.
Look at Ken Rosenthal in the background. https://t.co/UrPHQ37jep— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) October 24, 2022
Harper won NLCS MVP by hitting .400 with an .850 slugging percentage and an insane 1.250 OPS, with 8 hits in 20 ABs, 3 doubles and two home runs. Through 11 playoff games spanning three rounds, he has a 1.351 OPS and set a new Phillies record with 11 extra base hits in a single postseason.
For a player whose team won a World Series title the year after he left, with an 11-year playoff drought and the dreams of everyone riding on his bat, to deliver the way he did is incomprehensible. Many big-time players wilt under this kind of pressure (see Aaron Judge, the entire Mets and Dodgers lineups), but not Harper. Not this year.
A player known for postseason heroics, the Phillies signed him this off-season to do two things: provide veteran leadership and hit home runs. One couldn’t have imagined he’d do both so incredibly well.
In the NLCS, Schwarber was the Phils’ best overall offensive player, going 6-for-15 with three dingers and 4 RBIs. One of those home runs will never be forgotten.
His leadoff home run in Game 3 gave Ranger Suarez an initial boost of confidence, and his titanic blast off the batter’s eye in Game 4 was an important insurance run in a game the Phillies had once trailed 4-0 but led 8-6 in the 7th.
Schwarber also walked six times, and if it seemed as if he was constantly on base, his .571 OBP would verify that. His 1.571 OPS was the best on the team in these five games, and the speedster even stole two bases. After a slow start to the postseason, Schwarber was a one-man wrecking crew in the NLCS.
Like Schwarber, Hoskins got off to a slow start in the playoffs until his legendary shot off Spencer Strider in the Division Series. When he hit it, we all assumed it would be the iconic moment of this playoff run. Epic bat spikes are hard to forget.
But then he slowed down again after that dinger. The hits weren’t coming. Was it a one-time power surge?
We got our answer in Game 3, also known as, “The Rhys Hoskins Game.”
Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the first, Hoskins got two runs back immediately with a momentum-shifting two run blast to left-center, and then, with the Phils’ trailing 6-4 in the 5th, once against shifted momentum back in the Phillies’ favor with a game-tying blast that sent the crowd into hysterics.
He followed that up with another two-run bomb in the bottom of the 3rd inning of Game 5 to put the Phillies up 2-0 in the eventual clincher.
We’ve all see Rhys Hoskins when he’s hot, and he can carry a team when he gets like this. In Games 4 and 5, “hot” Rhys Hoskins came to play, and he finished the series with an 1.189 OPS in 18 ABs and a team-best four home runs and seven RBIs.
In Game 1, Wheeler outdueled Yu Darvish in a 2-0, tone-setting victory in which he went seven innings and allowed one stinkin’ hit with eight strikeouts and one walk. He followed that up with a six inning performance in less-than-ideal conditions in Game 5, allowing two runs on just three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.
All told, Wheeler pitched 13 innings in the two games, allowed four hits and five total baserunners for a 1.38 ERA. That’s a 0.38 WHIP and a .093 batting average allowed in his two starts.
Were it not for all the offensive heroics above, he would have been the front runner to win NLCS MVP.
When the Phillies’ No. 3 starter was slated to do battle with San Diego’s Joe Musgrove, one could be excused for not chalking this up as an automatic win for the Phils. After all, Musgrove dominated the Dodgers in the NLDS and is the author of San Diego’s only no-hitter. Even though Suarez came out on the winning side in their match-up back in June, few looked at this as a repeat scenario.
Thankfully for the Phils, it worked out just the same, thanks to some outstanding work by the sly southpaw, holding San Diego to two runs, one earned, in five innings of work, allowing just two seeing-eye hits. He was taken out after just 68 pitches by manager Rob Thomson, good enough to outduel Musgrove, who got tagged for four runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings.
But that wasn’t all. With the Phillies having taken the lead on Harper’s miracle homer in Game 5, Suarez was summoned to the mound to secure the final two outs of the pennant-clincher after David Robertson was unable to find the strike zone. With runners on 1st and 2nd and one out, Suarez calmly fielded Trent Grisham’s incomprehensible bunt for the second out, then needed just one more pitch to induce Austin Nola’s fly out to earn the save and wrap up the NLCS.
Two pitches, two outs. Ballgame. Pennant.
I mean, it’s called “The Jean Segura Game” for a reason.
First, he dropped a double play ball that led to a run. Then, he came up in the bottom of the 4th inning with runners and 2nd and 3rd and two out, game tied at 1, and delivered a clutch two-run single reminiscent of his two-run poke to right in the St. Louis series that propelled the Phillies on this crazy October ride.
After being subsequently picked off first following the hit, he followed it up with two sparkling defensive plays at second to prevent San Diego from mounting a comeback in the hugely consequential Game 3, 4-2.
Were they perfect? No, but in Game 4 of the NLCS, when Bailey Falter faltered, they rose to the occasion and saved the series.
Yes, Game 4 was a game in which the Phillies pounded out 10 runs, but it may not have worked out if the collection of Connor Brogdon (2.1 innings), Andrew Bellatti (1 IP), Noah Syndergaard (1.1), Robertson (1.2) and Zach Eflin hadn’t combined for 7.1 shutout innings. In all, with Brad Hand’s 1.1 innings thrown into the mix, the relievers combined for 25 outs and two runs allowed in the Game 4 victory.
Not only that, the duo of Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez continued to be money in the bank in the latter innings. Forget about Dominguez’ outing in Game 5, the conditions were horrific, with a cold rain turning the baseball into a cue ball for most of his time on the mound. In three NLCS appearances, Alvarado pitched three innings and didn’t allow a run, giving up three hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Dominguez also appeared in three games and, in four innings, gave up one run on the wild pitch, with two hits, seven strikeouts and no walks.
That’s seven innings of one-run ball, 11 strikeouts and two walks combined for the two Phils’ flamethrowers in the ‘pen.
His contributions were not earth-shattering, but he always seemed to be in the middle of every Phillies rally when they happened.
He walked ahead of Bryce Harper’s RBI double in the first inning of Game 4, scoring the third run of the game, and walked ahead of Harper’s second RBI double, the one that put the Phils on top 7-6. In Game 5, he singled ahead of Harper’s two-run homer, and in the series had a .350 OBP with an icing-on-the-cake solo blast in the 8th inning of Game 4’s 10-6 win.
He also handled a pitching staff that pitched outstanding baseball throughout the series against a very good Padres lineup, specifically the bottom of the order.
Just about every move Philly Rob made in this series worked.
- Take out Zack Wheeler in Game 1 at just 83 pitches. Worked.
- Take out Ranger Suarez in Game 3 at just 68 pitches. Worked.
- Push Seranthony Dominguez for a two-inning save in Game 3. Worked.
- Use Connor Brogdon for 2.1 innings after Falter is pulled in the 1st. Worked.
- Go to Ranger Suarez for the save in Game 5. Worked.
Thomson outmaneuvered Bob Melvin throughout the series, pulling guys at the right time and knowing upon whom to call at virtually every turn. The Rob Thomson run of magic continued on like a freight train through the NLCS, and he undoubtedly is one of this team’s League Championship Series heroes as the team prepares to travel to Houston for their first World Series in 13 years.