Bryce Harper grabbed his glove Friday night off the bench in the Phillies dugout, tugged on his red Phillies cap, and made his way to right field. Minutes earlier, his three-run homer sliced to left field and made a 8-4 win over the Padres feel safe. And now the fans were waiting to greet him.
The tides of the season seemed to turn this week at Citizens Bank Park as the Phillies dumped their hitting coach, brought Charlie Manuel into the dugout, and won four straight games. Their offense is hot and Harper — the player expected to define this season — is carrying them.
He reached right field on Friday night and the fans in the lower bowl stood and cheered. His sixth-inning homer was not as majestic as his walk-off grand slam a night earlier, but it was his fourth home run in three games. He has seven home runs and 17 RBIs in the last nine games and with his three-run homer, he joined Ryan Howard as the only left-handed Phillies hitters since 2010 to have 90 RBIs in a season.
Harper looked to the crowd, touched his hat, and listened to them cheer some more. The ballpark this week has belonged to Harper.
“It’s a lot of fun from this side. I’ve seen it a lot from the other side in recent years,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said of Harper after playing against him the last five seasons. “When he gets hot, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch, as you guys are seeing right now.”
Forget that the Phillies, according to FanGraphs, entered Friday with a 13.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. Ignore, that they have a starting rotation of Aaron Nola and four others. Never mind that they have a patchwork bullpen and a bench made up of players who were not here when the season started.
None of that will matter if the Phillies — and Harper — can keep hitting. Friday began a stretch in which nine of their next 11 games come against teams that no longer have playoff aspirations. It seems to be the perfect chance for the team to catch fire. And if it does, check back at those playoff odds.
“From the top to the bottom. Cesar [Hernandez] is our eight-hole hitter. Jean [Segura] is our five-hole hitter. It’s pretty special, especially when we’re missing Cutch [Andrew McCutchen] and [Jay] Bruce and a couple other guys,” Harper said. “But I think as a whole as a lineup if we can keep going and doing the things we’re doing, we’re going to be a tough team to face down the stretch. We’ve just got to keep going.”
The Phillies know they will need to ride their lineup to October. They seem to be heating up just in time. The offense has averaged 7.5 runs and hit eight home runs in their last four games.
They played Friday without Rhys Hoskins (sore right hand) until he entered the game in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement, and the lineup was able to overcome his absence. They chased Chris Paddack, a tough right-hander, before the fifth inning. Maybe it’s just the presence of Manuel.
“Of course Charlie’s had an impact,” Realmuto said. “Just having him in the dugout, being able to walk by him and him say something as simple as, ‘Hey, stay short.’ He’s a guy that everybody in this clubhouse looks up to, so we’re definitely glad to have him.”
Roman Quinn homered in the third inning and has a 1.040 OPS in his last 19 games. But he left in the ninth inning with right groin tightness.
Realmuto hit a homer in the third and doubled in a run in the fifth to highlight an inning that would end with the Phillies ahead, 5-0. He has eight home runs since the All-Star break and has a .943 OPS in his last 113 at-bats since then.
Harper wore a Realmuto T-shirt under his jersey for the third straight night in support of the catcher he calls his favorite player. And it’s easy to see why Harper hold so much admiration for him.
“That’s my guy. Everybody knows how I feel about him,” Harper said. “He’s doing a great for us this year. I mean, being able to catch as many games as he has this year, staying in the lineup, even when he’s beat up sometimes, knowing that we need him, for a catcher to possibly average 150 games that’s pretty incredible.”
Vince Velasquez pitched five scoreless innings but then stumbled in the sixth. He faced 12 straight batters without allowing a hit before opening the sixth with a pair of singles. Velasquez then induced a ground-out that could have been a double-play ball, uncorked a wild pitch to bring home a run, and then yielded an RBI triple to Francisco Mejia.
That was it for Velasquez, who would be charged for a third run when reliever Blake Parker allowed Mejia to score. He gave the Phillies 5 1/3 innings, and that’s really all they are asking from the starters outside of Nola. The Phillies are not going to pitch their way to October.
“What we need is quality starts. We’re not looking for eight innings and zeroes every night,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “What we’re looking for is to be in games. If we’re in games, we have the kind of offense that can win those games, and so we just want very competitive starts from our starters.”
The lead Realmuto provided no longer felt safe and a game that had the feel of a lopsided Phillies win had become much closer than it ever should have been. But the offense was not done.
In the bottom of the inning, Harper stepped in. He turned on a fastball and drove it to the opposite field, and pumped his fist when his homer crashed into the stands. Harper circled the bases a bit slower than his sprint a night earlier following his walk-off grand slam, and as he returned to the dugout, his teammates showered him with sunflower seeds. The fans in right field were waiting for him.
“Bryce is on fire,” Velasquez said. “We’re all ecstatic right now. We’re calm and we’re collected and we’re being aggressive and we’re not giving up.”