Adam Morgan crouched Monday night and put his hands on his knees as the feeling of defeat washed over him.
Morgan had just listened to the impact of his two-out slider being ripped into right field in the seventh inning of a 7-4 win over the Brewers.
His initial thoughts? Not good, Morgan said. Mike Moustakas, who had already homered, sent the pitch scorching off his bat at 96 mph. Morgan, with the bases loaded, dropped his head and hoped for some help.
Enter, Bryce Harper.
“I thought to myself ‘Either they’re going to score three right here or we’re going to win this game,’” Harper said.
The defensive positioning card in Harper’s back pocket had aligned Harper a shade towards center field, which made his quest to make the catch a bit more challenging. He sprinted from right-center, noticed the ball was dropping to the grass with topspin, and dove to his left to make what manager Gabe Kapler labeled “a sensational” catch that “won the game for us.”
The inning was over, the score remained tied, and Morgan’s call for help was answered. Harper picked his face up from the grass and raised his glove to the umpire. Moustakas looked to right field in disbelief as Morgan pumped his fist on the mound.
“It’s awesome,” said Morgan, who earned the win. “It’s reassuring. It gives you a sense of calmness. All of these guys are awesome players who are sacrificing their body everyday. To actually see it come to fruition is awesome.”
The Phillies won their 24th game of the season despite Aaron Nola pitching just three innings. They won for the 11th time in 15 games despite Harper striking out in his first three plate appearances. The Phils added to their lead atop the National League East even though they went just 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
It was not the prettiest win of the season, but it may have been one of the most impressive. Cesar Hernandez tied the game with a two-run homer in the fifth and then the Phillies followed Harper’s seventh-inning catch with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
J.T. Realmuto laced a two-out double to take the lead and Odubel Herrera followed two batters later with a two-run double. The Phillies used six relievers to bail out Nola and record the final 18 outs.
“We have a lot of different ways that we can beat you,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We can beat you with an offensive explosion. We can beat you with a big inning. We can beat you without a home run just through walks and a few patient at-bats and a few timely hits. We have the ability to beat teams with our bullpen and we can get some really long impressive starts. I feel like we’re a pretty well-rounded team so far.”
Nola lasted just three innings but left with the Phillies trailing by just one run. He needed 84 pitches to complete three innings and seemed to have trouble commanding his fastball. It was a disappointing night after Nola had seemed to make progress just six days earlier in his last start. He struck out three, walked three, and allowed three runs on five hits.
“It’s pretty embarrassing on my part,” Nola said.
Nola’s rough start was easy to forget when Harper raised the baseball inside his black glove. But it was what Harper did before that play that made his catch even more impressive. His first three at-bats ended with a strikeout as he registered his major-league leading 19th multi-strikeout game.
Harper’s first six weeks in Philadelphia have been marred by the whiff. He has ended 30.5-percent of his plate appearances with a strikeout, a rate that is six-points higher than his mark from last season. He finished 0 for 4 on Monday with three strikeouts. He has just two hits since his grand-slam last week in St. Louis, a hit the Phillies hoped would snap Harper’s funk. Instead, his struggles have persisted.
There was so much talk during Harper’s free-agency about his defensive shortcomings. But that would be overshadowed, the thinking went, by what he would do with his bat. On Monday night, Harper’s bat came up short. And it was his defense that overshadowed his offense.