Bryce Harper was asked Friday night if he remembered the last time he stole home plate.
“Don’t we all?” Harper cracked.
Harper’s steal of home on Friday night came nearly a decade since he stole home against the Phillies in May 2012 after Cole Hamels intentionally plunked him to welcome Harper to the majors in his eighth career game.
Hamels said afterward that he wouldn’t deny that he was trying to hit Harper on purpose in the name of “old baseball.” Mike Rizzo fired back that Hamels was “fake tough” and “classless.” Hamels was suspended, the Phillies wore “Fake Tough” shirts, and a rivalry was sparked.
Now there’s a chance that he and Hamels -- once adversaries -- could become teammates. The Phillies, in their search for pitching help this month, scouted Hamels last week as he pitched for scouts in Texas. Hamels is likely a month away from being ready to pitch in the majors, but a team is likely to take a chance on him. It might just be the Phillies.
“Cole is one of the best to ever do it in a Phillies uniform, of course,” Harper said. “I have a lot of respect for him and the way he went about it in his whole career. Any team that gets him is going to be really good. Everyone has seen him in the postseason and what he’s able to do and his whole career. I think any team that gets him is going to be very good.”
It’s been a decade since the Phillies reached the postseason and their rivalry with the Nationals has been pretty much one-sided since Hamels plunked Harper. The Phillies have not had a winning season since while the Nationals won four division titles and a World Series.
The Phillies were one of baseball’s premier teams when Hamels hit Harper. Nearly 10 years later, they’re trying to re-capture that magic.
They enter Saturday with a .500 record and four games out of first place. They have six games remaining against divisional opponents before Friday’s trade deadline. The front office intends to buy, but that mindset could change if the Phillies slip further behind the Mets. And if they gain ground this weekend, expect the Phillies to be aggressive next week. Signing Hamels -- who would cost money and not prospects -- could be in play.
The division was underwhelming in the first half, but the Mets and Braves have both added this month through trades. The final two months of the season are shaping up to be a much tougher battle than the first half was.
“I think it’s going to be extremely competitive the next two months,” Girardi said. “Maybe their records aren’t great, but I still think it’s been extremely competitive. It’s a tough division. There’s a ton of pitching in this division. You see good starters every night.”
The Phillies are interested in adding to their rotation and bullpen before July 30, but they are also monitoring upgrades in center field. For now, Girardi is using a platoon of Travis Jankowski and Luke Williams. That seems to be an area for Dave Dombrowski to target in his first trade deadline with the Phillies. First, the Phillies have to prove that they can chase down the Mets.
“We have to win for us to be able to make those moves,” Zack Wheeler said.
Harper stole a career-high three bases on Friday night and became just the fourth Phillies player in 60 years - joining Larry Bowa, Pete Rose, and Jayson Werth - to steal second, third, and home in the same game.
Harper seemed to set a tone for the Phils with the way he ran the bases. It was the same style of play he showed against the Phillies when he was a 19-year-old rookie. After Hamels hit him on Sunday Night Baseball in May of 2012 with a first-pitch fastball, Harper went from first to third on a single to left. He then broke for home when Hamels threw a pick-off throw to first base.
“I’m glad he’s on my team,” Wheeler said. “I’ve watched him play for a long time. He’s always aggressive and plays really hard. That’s all you can ask for.”
Harper started the fifth inning Friday night with a single, stole second, moved to third on a ball hit to the left side, and then stole home when the Braves threw a pickoff throw to first base.
“We were thinking that if he was going to pick, just to make sure you let Freddie release,” Harper said as he broke for home when first-baseman Freddie Freeman threw to second. “Once he releases, try to bust your butt to the plate and try to be safe.”
It worked. For the first time in more than nine years, Harper stole home. This steal didn’t spark a rivalry or produce T-shirts, but it still reminded Harper of the time he stole home against a pitcher who may become his teammate.
“This was pretty much the same play,” Harper said. “Besides, Hamels was ‘right as Hamels goes, go.’ And this one was more ‘once Freddie breaks, go.’ So just a little bit different.”