CINCINNATI -- Bryce Harper stood on first base and waved to the dugout. He wasn't asking for the baseball, per se. He was merely making the gesture that has become customary for Phillies hitters whenever they drive in a run.
But that ball did mean something. When Harper stroked it through the right side of the infield in the fifth inning Tuesday night, Corey Dickerson scored from second base, marking RBI No. 100 for the superstar slugger in his first season with the Phillies. So, on-deck batter Rhys Hoskins kindly retrieved the ball and flipped it to manager Gabe Kapler, who put it in his back pocket for safekeeping.
Consider it a memento from the kind of season that must now be considered quintessential Harper. For the second time in as many years and the third time in his career, he has hit 30 homers and driven in 100 runs. He also has been the Phillies' best hitter since the All-Star break. And with a 6-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds here at Great American Ball Park, they continued to apply pressure to the Chicago Cubs in the quest for the National League’s second wild-card berth.
“I’ll say this: 30 and 100 is a huge accomplishment,” Kapler said. “As a kid, it’s what every hitter dreams about. Can I get to 30 and 100? And Bryce seems to do it fairly regularly. Regardless of how much it means to him, I think it means a lot to his teammates.”
And on this night, Harper had plenty of help. A half-dozen relievers, in particular, combined to allow one run in six innings after starter Vince Velasquez lasted only three. Scott Kingery homered for the second time in as many days. Playing with a heavy heart after his grandmother’s funeral in the Dominican Republic, shortstop Jean Segura came off the bench to deliver a big double.
The Phillies won their third consecutive game, with ace Aaron Nola scheduled to start on Wednesday night. They also pushed their record to seven games over .500 for the first time since June 16 and remained 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs for the second wild-card spot with 25 games remaining.
"I thought the bullpen came in and threw the ball great," Harper said. "Down the stretch we're going to need that."
The Phillies caught a break even before the game began. Alex Wood, the Reds' scheduled starter, was scratched with a recurrence of a back problem, leaving Cincinnati to piece together the game with a group of relievers.
Little did the Phillies know, they would have to dig deep into their bullpen, too.
Velasquez struggled from the jump, as the Reds grabbed a 1-0 lead 14 pitches into the bottom of the first inning. He pitched out of further damage but lasted only three innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, a move that Kapler was able to make with 11 pitchers available in the bullpen.
Welcome to September baseball. Do the Phillies even have enough seats for all of those relievers?
"I have to go to the store," closer Hector Neris said, laughing.
Nick Vincent, Ranger Suarez, Mike Morin, Jose Alvarez, Blake Parker and Neris passed the bullpen baton, tossing one inning apiece with only Parker allowing a run against a Reds lineup that is depleted with slugging third baseman Eugenio Suarez sidelined with a bruised right hand.
The offense gave them a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. Segura, who missed two games to grieve with his family, doubled over center fielder Nick Senzel’s head and scored on Cesar Hernandez’s single.
“I think it was an emotional lift for him and very clearly so,” Kapler said of Segura. “I thought it was an emotional lift for our team. When your heart is heavy, you’re trying to kind of separate yourself from that in a big moment on the field, and he was able to do that. It’s not an easy thing to do. He’s 48 hours removed from his grandmother’s death."
Harper’s single stretched the margin to 3-1 and gave him 38 RBI in the 43 games he has played since the All-Star break. Although runs batted in has been devalued as a statistic by the sabermetric community, Kapler noted that it still offers a reflection of whether a hitter is taking advantage of opportunities to drive in runs. Harper hasn’t missed many opportunities lately.
In addition to becoming the first Phillies player since Ryan Howard in 2011 and the first Phillies outfielder since Pat Burrell in 2005 to have 30 homers and 100 RBIs in a season, Harper is only the eight Phillies outfielder in the 30-100 club, joining Cy Williams, Lefty O’Doul, Chuck Klein, Del Ennis, Johnny Callison, Greg Luzinski, Bobby Abreu, and Burrell.
“I think RBIs come with a good team getting on base and things like that,” Harper said. “It’s Sept. 3, so we’ve got a long ways to go. It’s just a steppingstone to something else, hopefully. We’ve just got to keep going.”