'Pure chaos': Bryce Harper becomes legend, lifting Philadelphia Phillies back to World Series
PHILADELPHIA — It was 5:46 p.m. when Bryce Harper slowly walked to home plate Sunday, the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park rising to its feet and Philadelphia Phillies fans praying for a miracle.
Phillies GM Dave Dombrowski leaned to the left in his suite, and whispered to his son, Landon: “This is a situation that Big Papi would have hit a home run. This is where legends are made. If Bryce hits one here, this place is going to go wild.’’
Ron Harper, Bryce's dad, said to his wife: “Get a hit. Just get a hit here.’’
Phillies reliever Brad Hand, sitting in the bullpen, said to teammate Kyle Gibson: “He’s going oppo right here.’’
Former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, realizing that the San Diego Padres were not bringing in left-hander Josh Hader to face Harper, told his wife: “what the [bleep] are they doing? They [bleeped] up. This [bleeping] ballgame is over.’’
The last words Harper said to anyone before his at-bat were to hitting coach Kevin Long: “Let’s give them something to remember.’’
GAME 5: Harper's homer sends Phillies to first World Series since 2009
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He fouled off three pitches and when Padres reliever Robert Suarez missed with a 1-and-2 changeup, Harper knew the pitcher was going to come back with a fastball on his seventh pitch “and I sure wasn’t going to miss it.’’
The ball left Suarez’s hand at 98.9 mph. It left Harper’s bat at 108.9 mph.
The crowd roared. Harper stood at the plate. He took a couple of steps. Raised his right fist into the air. Stared at the Phillies bench. And listened to the deafening roar of the crowd.
“Pure chaos,’’ said Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who hit a two-run homer in the second inning. “I don't think anybody was surprised. This guy has a knack for coming up in the biggest moments. It's just what he's done his whole career, and we've seen it plenty of times. ... This guy’s incredible.’’
It was the moment, 5:48 p.m., that time stood still, with Harper taking the most beautiful stroll around the bases of his life.
One inning later, it was over.
The Phillies, the final team to make the 2022 postseason, are in the World Series, winning 4-3 over the San Diego Padres to take the best-of-seven National League Championship Series in five games.
It will forever be known as The Bryce Harper Game, living forever in Phillies lore.
“He’s now a legend,’’ Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “Everyone is going to remember this game, this moment, this time. It’s unbelievable.’’
And one of the most magical moments in Philadelphia sports history.
“You go back 40 years, and it was Mike Schmidt at the plate,’’ Phillies owner John Middleton said. “I was dumbstruck. My jaw just opened up. It was a surreal moment. It was like a Hollywood script. It was like 'The Natural' with Robert Redford.’’
Harper stood on the center field stage, clutching the NLCS MVP trophy, thanking the fans, telling them they’re not done yet, while his parents stood on the field wiping tears from their eyes.
Harper walked off the stage, kept frantically looking around for his family, and there was his mom, Sheri. He ran over, embraced her, telling her how much he loved her. He then bear-hugged his father, Ron, who spent his whole life training Harper to be the best, with Ron telling his son how proud he is of him, and to enjoy the moment. The hug ended nearly a minute later, and when Harper walked away, his dad wiped tears from his eyes.
“I just want him to be so happy,’’ Ron Harper said. “And I know how much it means to him to be in the World Series. It’s a dream. It’s always been his dream.’’
Harper handed his MVP trophy to public relations director Kevin Gregg then started calling out to his teammates.
They needed to get a team picture before they all scattered. He got everyone together, sat in the front row with eye black running down his face, and second baseman Jean Segura sliding into the picture at the last moment.
Harper then began rounding everyone up to gather inside the clubhouse. It was time for the celebration and toasts. They sprayed champagne, dumped beer, and Harper was holding onto two beer cans, dancing, signing, before grabbing starting pitcher Zack Wheeler with about half a dozen players dumping as much beer and champagne as they could on his head.
“Look at that,’’ Middleton said, holding onto the NLCS trophy. “Have you ever seen a more beautiful sight?’’
Players were recounting the moment Harper’s homer landed. Reliever Zach Eflin says he blacked out and nearly knocked Gibson unconscious. Outfielder Brandon Marsh punched everyone in the dugout. Schwarber and other were trying to compare it to the greatest moments in baseball history.
“The thing you think about was Joe Carter, right?’’ Schwarber said, “when he won the World Series.’’
Oops. Carter’s game-winning home run in the 1993 World Series happened to be against the Phillies.
“Oh, sorry,’’ Schwarber said, when reminded. “I’m sorry. But it is true.’’
Harper finally was corralled to come to the interview room and sit at the dais with the MVP trophy at his side, trying to explain just what this meant to him.
He never made it past the first round in the postseason before this year.
He signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies, a team that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2011 and now was expected to carry the franchise on his back.
His former team, the Washington Nationals, won the World Series the first year after he departed.
Instead, he was left with a bullseye on his back, with Phillies’ fans taking their frustrations out on him.
“It's Philly, man, they hate you,’’ Harper said, laughing. The team on the other side, they can't stand. If you’re [not] a Philly, they don't like you, and I love that. I love every emotion that they have….
“I loved walking in as an opposing player knowing that I was going to get absolutely blasted by these fans, and it was what it was, and I loved it. It made me want to come here and play because I knew how much they cared. I knew how much they love their players and how much passion and how much drive they all have.
“Everybody talks about the blue-collarness of this city and the fight that they have, and it just rubs off on all of us.’’
He may be from Las Vegas, live there in the offseason and have spent his first seven years playing for the Washington Nationals, but he’s a Philadelphian now.
“I raised him as a teenager,’’ said Werth, who was with the Nationals when Harper broke in, “but look at him now. Look at this team. They aren’t chasing our ghosts anymore. They’re creating their own legacy.’’
They battled just to make the playoffs, stunned the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card round and shocked Atlanta in the NLDS before taking down the Padres in the NLCS.
“It's just been really, really cool to see this group in particular just write their own story. I think this city, just by the way that they showed up these past couple weekends, will be talking about this group for a long time.’’
And perhaps, talking about Harper forever. He's hit .419 this postseason with six doubles, five homers, 11 RBI and a preposterous 1.351 OPS.
“There’s only a handful of players that I have been around that have the talent of Bryce Harper,’’ Dombrowski said. “The great ones like that, they rise to the occasion. He can do it all.’’
Harper, towards the end of the evening, with the party starting to wane, was asked about his legacy. He laughed. He just turned 30 last week. He has nine years left on his contract.
“There’s no thought right now, man,’’ he said. “I don’t like looking back. I like looking forward and moving forward.’’
What he has already accomplished in his career, and his latest heroics on Sunday, will be viewed depending on what transpires in the World Series.
“This game,’’ Harper said, “is what have you done for me lately?’ That’s how it’s always been.
“We’re going to enjoy this now, but we got four more to go.’’
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