Bryce Harper did not hesitate Friday night when he broke for home plate in the fifth inning of a 5-1 win over the Braves. He had already stolen second base and tried to steal third before aggressively moving to the base on a grounder to the left side. So, of course, he was stealing home.
He sprinted from third as soon as Freddie Freeman caught a pick-off throw at first and threw to second base as the Braves tried to catch Rhys Hoskins between first and second. By the time Ozzie Albies threw home to get Harper, Harper had already crossed the plate.
Harper reached base three times, stole a career-high three bases, stretched a single into a double, and moved from second to third with alert baserunning. It was the first time Harper stole home since 2012 when he stole home as a rookie off Cole Hamels after the Phils pitcher plunked him.
Harper is the first Phillies player to steal second, third, and home in a game since Jayson Werth did in 2009. In the last 60 years, Pete Rose (1980) and Larry Bowa (1970) are the only other Phils to do so.
“We stole some runs because we were able to steal some bases,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The Phillies entered Friday a week from the trade deadline and mired in a three-game losing streak. The momentum they built earlier this month seemed to be fading away. They needed a win on Friday and Harper’s baserunning gave them a needed spark.
“I didn’t really think about it before the game. I was just trying to make things happen,” Harper said. “The last three days, that’s just how it goes in baseball, I guess. But we can’t afford to do that, right? We’re trying to go out there and play our game. We’re 1-1 right now against the Braves and we have two more games this weekend.”
Momentum, Girardi said on Thursday night, is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. So he felt good about his team’s chances to regain its momentum on Friday behind Zack Wheeler.
The pitcher was not perfect -- he allowed seven hits -- but he pushed himself through seven innings while allowing just one run and striking out eight. Harper’s baserunning sparked the Phils, but Wheeler’s right arm guided them.
“Whenever you have Wheels on the mound, you have an opportunity to win a game,” Harper said. “I felt like that when he was in New York. Facing him, it was always a tough at-bat. Whenever he was on the mound, it was always a tough game for the opposing team.”
Wheeler loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth before escaping the jam with a groundout. He allowed a leadoff single in the sixth but induced three straight ground balls. Wheeler started the seventh with 100 pitches and retired the three batters he faced on just 11 pitches.
“Try to get ahead of guys, keep it away from the barrel, and try to get out,” Wheeler said of his mindset with the bases loaded. “It’s as simple as that. Don’t overthink it. That’s when you start to get yourself into trouble. It sounds kind of cliché, but you pitch to your strengths. J.T. was awesome back there tonight.”
RISP problems continue
Jean Segura came through with a clutch two-out, two-strike double in the fourth inning but it was still not enough to overcome the team’s troubles this week with runners in scoring position. Segura’s double -- which was a sharp grounder that bounced off third base and into left field -- brought in two runs and was the team’s only hit in 12 chances with runners in scoring position. In their last four games, the Phillies are 6-for-44 (.136) with runners in scoring position.
J.T. Realmuto’s first-inning homer was his 10th of the season, making him the only major-league catcher to have 10 homers in each of the last seven seasons. He struggled at the plate in June following his wrist injury earlier this season, but his July has been strong. The Phillies need a strong finish from their catcher.
Vince Velasquez starts Saturday night against former Phils left-hander Drew Smyly, who has a 3.02 ERA in his last eight starts. Before the game, the Phillies will introduce first-round pick Andrew Painter.