It’s OK if you don’t like Bryce Harper, but it might not be the smartest thing to heckle him if you’re sitting behind the dugout.
Last week, a fan’s video went viral after he heckled Harper an at-bat before his walk-off grand slam. On Wednesday night, Harper homered to beat the Red Sox after Gabe Kapler said a group of Fenway Park fans were busting Harper’s chops all night.
Harper’s been booed at every ballpark the Phillies have visited this season. Wednesday night was nothing new for him. And neither was the way he responded. The Phillies won a series at Fenway for the first time in 20 years and they flew to Miami with some momentum, but can they finally take advantage of the Marlins?
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When the Phillies signed Bryce Harper, they dreamed of moments like last week’s walk-off grand slam. Yes, they knew Harper would boost ticket sales and help the team’s store run out of Phillie Phanatic headbands. But they also expected him to come through on the field — such as Wednesday night’s go-ahead homer — when it mattered most. So far, Harper has delivered.
Harper leads all major-league hitters in “clutch,” a stat that measures how a player performs in high-leverage situations by using both win-probability added and leverage index. Harper’s clutch rating after his two-run homer to beat the Sox on Wednesday increased to 2.16. The next best hitter — interestingly, Jean Segura — has a 1.49 mark. The league average is zero and anything better than 2.0 is “excellent,” according to FanGraphs.
Harper said he loves the game’s biggest moments. He touched his chest before last week’s grand slam and noticed that his heart was beating normally, just as he expected. His success in the clutch comes from his ability to stay calm.
“I think like us mortals, I wish I could do that,” manager Gabe Kapler said a day after Harper’s grand slam stunned the Cubs. “He really did look like that last night. So once he hit the home run and once he’s circling the bases, it felt like he knew how big that moment was and he was going to include everyone else, inside the ballpark, outside the ballpark, his teammates, coaches. Everybody was going to get included in that celebration, and he was going to make everybody feel like they were the most important person. And he executed that beautifully.”
Harper’s win-probability added — which accounts for the change in a team’s win expectancy based on a single at-bat — is the highest in baseball since the All-Star break and trails only Mike Trout and Christian Yelich for the season. The Red Sox had a 62.8 percent win expectancy when Harper stepped to the plate in the fifth inning. His homer over the Green Monster changed that to just 39.5 percent, thus increasing his win-probability added.
And it might have been easy for Harper to lose his composure before that swing. Kapler said a group of fans at Fenway Park was riding the Phillies’ $330 million superstar. Kapler declined to say what the hecklers were yelling, but Harper silenced them by coming through yet again in the clutch.
“That was a pretty explosive moment for the dugout celebration,” Kapler said. “I’m really happy for Bryce to be able to come up big in that moment.”
Another Bryce Harper home run powered the Phillies on Wednesday night, but Scott Lauber reminds you to not ignore the work the team’s bullpen did. Jared Hughes, Ranger Suarez, Mike Morin, Jose Alvarez, and Hector Neris combined for 16 scoreless outs on the road against a potent Red Sox lineup.
J.T. Realmuto was behind the plate Wednesday night after spending Tuesday night at first base. The catcher, Lauber writes from Boston, is on pace to start more games than any Phillies catcher since Mike Lieberthal in 1999. “I think J.T. is as durable physically, mentally as anybody,” Kapler said.
Today: The Phillies are off.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez opens three-game series in Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Zach Eflin starts against right-hander Jordan Yamamoto, 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola starts the series finale against right-hander Elieser Hernandez, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open three-game home series vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m.
J.T. Realmuto on Wednesday threw out his 35th baserunner of the season, which leads all of baseball, and his WAR, as calculated by FanGraphs, moved to 4.5. It’s the eighth-best mark in the National League and the 15th-best mark in the majors.
The Phillies have not had a position player finish in the top 10 in the majors in WAR since 2009, when Chase Utley tied for third with an 8.2 WAR in 156 games. A Phillies catcher has not finished in the top 10 of all major-league position players since Darren Daulton finished third in 1992.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Long time Phillies fan. How long are the Phillies going to put up with Hector Neris? Every time he comes into a game, I turn off the TV because I know he is going to blow the save. I used to cringe when Mitch Williams came into a game back in the day. I can’t explain the feeling I get now when Hector Neris comes into the game. You can probably call it agita, Get the Pepto out. It’s going to be a long night. — Tom G. via email
Answer: Thanks, Tom. Neris has had his fair share of rough moments, but let’s not ignore how good he’s been. Last night marked his 13th straight scoreless appearance, a span that’s included just three hits and seven base runners.
Yes, he’s blown saves this season. But so has every other closer in baseball. Since his last blown save July 16 against the Dodgers, Neris is 6-for-6 in save chances and has the fifth-lowest ERA among major-league relievers.