It was a majestic piece of performance art by a player who is sculpting one heck of a season. Bryce Harper took a couple of slow, admiring steps toward first base. He took his bat into both of his hands. Then, he took this Mets-Phillies series to another level, flipping the lumber end-over-end in a dramatic 720 that would have made the most critical of drum majors proud.

This was the eighth inning of a game that to that point had been dominated by Kyle Gibson, the Phillies bullpen, and some interesting defense from both teams. With nobody out and Jean Segura on first and the home team clinging to a one-run lead, Harper crushed an Edwin Diaz fastball 442 feet to dead center and ensured the Phillies would seize first place with authority. The 4-2 win over the Mets in the opener of a pivotal NL East series pushed the Phillies atop the division for the first time since May 7, a stretch that had seen them trail by 4 1/2 games as recently as a week ago. Now, with six straight wins and a rotation that is showing some preliminary signs of stability, August feels tantalizingly alive.

Harper’s 19th home run of the season added more ammunition to his MVP argument. More importantly, it showed just what this Phillies team is capable of when his bat is backed by solid pitching. Gibson logged his second straight quality start since his trade deadline acquisition, and Héctor Neris and Archie Bradley shut down the seventh and eighth innings before Ian Kennedy allowed a solo home run while closing out the ninth.

The Phillies are 57-53 and a half-game up on the Mets in the NL East.

Stock watch

Didi Gregorius: Up

The shortstop surfaced from an abysmal season to reach base three times with a couple of extra-base hits. In the second inning, he crushed a 3-2 fastball from Marcus Stroman into the second deck in right field to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. In the fourth inning, Gregorius hit a two-out triple that Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo almost chased down at the wall before the ball popped out of his glove.

Kyle Gibson: Even

It wasn’t the prettiest outing for the newly acquired right-hander, but he stranded nine baserunners, four of whom reached by walks and another two by fielding errors. He is now 2-0 as a Phillie after holding the Mets to one run in six innings.

Archie Bradley: Up

He was electric in striking out two of the three batters he faced in a shutdown eighth inning, lowering his ERA to 2.73.

Alec Bohm: Down

Bohm now has twice as many fielding errors as home runs. The Phillies third baseman committed two more on Friday, including a throwing error in the seventh inning that forced Neris to work out of some high-leverage trouble. They were his 13th and 14th errors on the season, compared with seven home runs.

Signs of trouble?

Even if COVID-19 doesn’t get the Phillies down the stretch, their defense remains an existential threat. On Friday, only some compensatory glove work and timely money pitches prevented their three errors from resulting in doom. In the fourth inning, a fielding error at first base by Brad Miller on crisp but playable ground ball helped lead to a bases-loaded, no-out situation that the Phillies shimmied out of thanks to a double play. In the seventh, Segura made an impressive charge-and-throw to strand a runner who arrived on base thanks to a throwing error by Bohm.

Up Next

The Phillies and the Mets continue their series on Saturday at 4:15 p.m. The Mets’ Tylor Megill squares off against Ranger Suárez.