Bryce Harper wasn’t stopping.
No chance. Not this time. Not after making two baserunning blunders earlier in the game Tuesday night that cost the Phillies at least one run, maybe two. It was the 10th inning now, and Harper was racing around the bases, destination home plate.
Somewhere between second and third, Harper heard the fans roar, an indication to him that J.T. Realmuto’s line drive had sailed beyond Baltimore Orioles right fielder Anthony Santander’s outstretched glove.
“I kind of kicked it into another gear,” Harper said.
Harper slid headfirst across the plate, got to his knees, and shouted into the air. The Phillies won, 3-2, finally beating back the 103-loss Orioles. And suddenly, after a frustration-filled, 3-hour and 40-minute slog, they were back from the brink. Again.
“We need all of them,” Realmuto said. “This late in the season, where we’re at, a few games behind the Braves, we can’t afford to lose two or three in a row anymore.”
Coincidentally, as the Orioles decided to walk Harper intentionally — even though it put the winning run on base — the division-leading Atlanta Braves had extended their lead in a late game in Arizona. But Realmuto’s triple and Harper’s mad dash assured the Phillies of staying three games behind the Braves with 11 games remaining.
It’s still going to take a finishing kick to catch Atlanta. If the Braves go 6-7 in their remaining games, the Phillies would have to go 8-3 to tie them and force a tiebreaking 163rd game for the NL East crown.
Harper, the presumptive National League MVP, held out hope that the Orioles might pitch to him with two out and the tying run on third base. But before the 10th inning, he asked manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Joe Dillon what they would do if they were Orioles manager Brandon Hyde.
“Girardi said to me, ‘If it was me, there’s no chance,’” Harper said. “I just try to keep my head down and walk up to the plate as quick as possible and get in the box, and they usually put up four fingers and I go to first base. I trust in the guys behind me to get their jobs done, and J.T. was able to do that tonight. That was big for us.”
Orioles reliever Cesar Valdez threw four consecutive changeups to Realmuto, who took the first three before lining a 2-1 pitch to right field. Off the bat, he thought for sure it would drop. But Santander appeared to close quickly on the ball.
“It was a pretty stressful 90 feet [to first base],” Realmuto said. “I don’t know where he was playing, but he was way closer to it than I expected.”
The same could be said of this series against the Orioles, who have the worst record in baseball. The Phillies evened the series, with ace Zack Wheeler taking the mound Wednesday night.
Harper’s baserunning adventures
Harper’s daring dash came two innings after he got cut down at home plate on Matt Vierling’s one-out grounder to second base in a drawn-in infield. Girardi said he allowed Harper to make his own read on the play rather than ordering him not to run on contact.
“If he thinks he can make it, I’m not going to take it away,” Girardi said. “I’m a guy that believes in trusting a player’s instincts that I trust.”
» READ MORE: Photos of the Phillies walking off the Orioles 3-2
Harper regretted a slight hesitation or indecision after the ball was hit.
“Getting thrown out at the plate right there can’t happen,” Harper said. “I got off [third base] a little too far and hesitated a little bit, and I decided to go. Next time I need to be better, staying in a rundown, at least getting [the trail runner] to second base.”
In the third inning, Harper lined a single down the right-field line and never held up in trying to stretch a double. But Santander made a strong throw and Harper got cut down by a wide margin.
“I made two bad baserunning mistakes tonight,” Harper said. “I need to be better in that situation.”
Where’s the offense?
Judging by the Phillies’ swings, you might’ve sworn the Orioles had Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, and Mike Mussina through the first nine innings. But these Orioles entered with a worst-in-the-majors 5.91 team ERA and went with a bullpen game, which meant a parade of relievers from the first inning through the last.
After getting shut out in the series opener Monday night, the Phillies didn’t score until the sixth inning when Realmuto doubled and scored on Andrew McCutchen’s double. The two hits snapped a streak of 18 innings without a run or an extra-base hit, 14 of which came against the Orioles.
Medina starts it up
In the previous three bullpen games, the Phillies passed the baton from reliever to reliever for nine innings. This time, they turned to Adonis Medina, who recently got recalled from triple A, where he made 17 starts.
The idea: Get multiple innings from Medina early in the game and piece it together from there.
Medina wound up recording 11 outs. He pitched into and out of trouble for three innings before allowing a run in the fourth. With two out, he hit Richie Martin with a pitch, walked Kelvin Gutiérrez, and gave up a pinch-hit RBI single to Ramón Urias before being lifted for lefty reliever José Alvarado.
Eight for Eshelman
It has been a rough season for Orioles reliever Thomas Eshelman, the former Phillies minor-league pitcher of the year. Entering the game, he had allowed 19 runs on 29 hits and 10 walks in 21⅓ innings for an 8.02 ERA.
But Eshleman retired eight of 10 batters in the middle innings despite not throwing a pitch that topped 86.8 mph.
After scoreless fourth and fifth innings, he struck out Harper on a sinker to open the sixth. But he gave up Realmuto’s double before giving way to reliever Dillon Tate.