As the first pitch of the sixth inning zoomed toward his head, Bryce Harper took his right hand off the bat and raised his arm like a shield. Maybe it prevented a direct hit. Maybe it didn’t.
But there isn’t any defense for a 97-mph fastball to the face.
A few hours later, after Harper walked off the field sans assistance but with blood smeared on his left cheek near his nose, after teammate Didi Gregorius got drilled in the ribs by the next pitch, after manager Joe Girardi was ejected, after the Phillies came away with a rousing 5-3 victory on a wild Wednesday night in St. Louis, their star right fielder spoke the words that mattered most.
“Everything feels good,” Harper said on Instagram after getting a CT scan at a nearby hospital. “Face is still there. We’re all good.”
As Harper’s update spread on social media and circulated within the Phillies’ clubhouse, the relief was visible on the faces of Brad Miller and Andrew McCutchen, Brandon Kintzler and Sam Coonrod, all of whom played starring roles in a win over the Cardinals that they believe may have an impact that goes far beyond one game out of 162 in a six-month season.
“It’s a lot of fight in that group,” Girardi said. “It’s who they are. That’s a brotherhood in there.”
Maybe they needed this, they said. Certainly not the terrifying sight of their best player bloodied by Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera. But something to awaken them from their collective early-season slumber.
It was clear based on his reaction on the mound that Cabrera didn’t intend to hit Harper or Gregorius. The 24-year-old lefty, making his 43rd major-league appearance, came into a 3-3 game throwing upper-90s smoke and had no clue where it was going.
“The plan was just to come inside with the fastball,” Cabrera said. “I wasn’t feeling it that well. It slipped on the release. I’m very sorry for the entire situation. My prayers go out to Bryce Harper.”
That didn’t make what happened any less scary. Girardi, who still remembers getting hit in the face in 2000 while playing for the Chicago Cubs, called for Cabrera to be ejected after his second pitch floored Gregorius. Instead, home-plate umpire Chris Segal warned both benches against retribution.
“I understand why they give the warnings. I understand they don’t want things to escalate,” Girardi said. “But if a guy hits a guy in the face and a guy in the ribs with two pitches, he’s got to go. If you’re really protecting the players, obviously, he doesn’t have command. He’s got to go. Just for the safety of the players.”
The benches never emptied, although several Phillies players stood in front of the dugout. And after Girardi got booted for arguing with Segal, McCutchen coolly stepped to the plate against Cabrera, took a first-pitch curveball in the dirt, swung through a changeup, and then lined a sinker into center field to drive in pinch-runner Matt Joyce with the go-ahead run.
“I think it ignited our dugout,” McCutchen said. “When something like that happens, you want to take advantage and win the game. A lot of guys weren’t happy about what happened.”
Nobody needed a hit more than McCutchen. The veteran left fielder and former National League MVP was in the midst of a 3-for-24 malaise that left him on the bench for the previous two games and dropped him from his customary leadoff spot to fifth in the batting order.
“The last thing you want to do when you’re playing is [stink],” McCutchen said. “You don’t want to [stink]. Right now I have been [stinking]. To be able come through with that hit is gratifying.”
The Phillies added a run in the seventh inning on a leadoff single by Alec Bohm, who broke an 0-for-13 hex, two walks, and a sacrifice fly from Gregorius, a nice way to rebound after being floored by a 94.5-mph heater from Cabrera.
Although Gregorius stayed in the game, Girardi acknowledged that he may need to undergo tests to rule out an injury. He recently missed three games with swelling in his elbow.
Kintzler, Connor Brogdon, José Alvarado, Coonrod, and Héctor Neris passed the baton for 14 outs in relief of starter Vince Velasquez, who recorded only 13. As Coonrod walked off the field after getting a double play to end the eighth inning, he yelled at the Cardinals and had to be held back from leaving the dugout and coming back onto the field to continue making his point.
“It’s just part of the game sometimes,” Coonrod said. “I know it wasn’t on purpose. but whenever someone on your team gets hit and the next guy gets hit as well, it’s just aggravating.”
Said Kintzler: “Coonrod tried to fight the whole team. You love to see that.”
But bloodlust rightly took a back seat to nailing down a win that pushed the Phillies’ record back to .500 at 12-12.
They haven’t won back-to-back games in more than three weeks, since they opened the season with four consecutive wins. The offense has gone missing. The bullpen has faltered. The center fielders are 7-for-77. The back of the rotation is a problem. They haven’t been more than one game over .500 since April 13.
“We needed that,” Kintzler said. “Not saying we needed Bryce to get hit. We needed something to fire us up and give us some energy. Thank God Bryce is OK. I saw him walk into the dugout. Wow, If nothing is broken that guy is made of steel.”
It’s a lot to unpack. And with one more game set for Thursday before the Phillies pack and head home, there may be outside chatter about of revenge. Eye-for-an-eye stuff.
But their ace, Aaron Nola, will start the series finale in St. Louis. After dropping two of three games last weekend in Colorado, a winning seven-game trip is within sight.
“I just think any good team, that’s how you have to respond,” Miller said. “Everybody was fuming and upset. But everyone was professional. Everyone was upset, but winning the game was most important.”
Before Harper got hit and the game turned sideways, it was Miller who hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to bring the Phillies back from a 3-1 deficit.
Maybe that would have awakened the offense on its own.
Or maybe Cabrera did it for them.