PHILADELPHIA – At times in his career, they called this arrogance – the slow, meticulous way Bryce Harper finished getting pine tar on his bat, checked his cleats, and ambled toward home plate when it was his turn to bat. Harper never hurried, never rushed past those few familiar bars of the walk-up song he made his own, always aware of the stage – always building a little bit of anticipation, a performer even when the stage was a quiet August afternoon.
But Tuesday night, it was perfect, the unhurried, deliberate walk from the on-deck circle to home plate that allowed a frenzied crowd time to ready itself for the potential – for Moby’s “Flower” to play him on to the biggest stage he had taken.
And then, it was legend, the first-pitch curveball, the swing that blasted a baseball into the stands in right-center field, a two-run homer that seemed to signal the postseason party here was still very much in force. Four homers and a shutout later, the Phillies were 7-0 winners over Houston, leading the World Series two games to one.
Tuesday night’s game was the first World Series game this town has hosted in more than 4,700 days, a span that stretched back to 2009, a year before Harper was drafted. Members of that 2009 team – Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels – were on hand to catch ceremonial first pitches. Philadelphia might not have expected to host a World Series this year, but when it happened, the city was ready.
So was this freewheeling Phillies team. When Kyle Schwarber ran to left field, he pointed and waved and put his hand behind his ear as if to urge every fan he could find to yell as loud as possible. They don’t need much urging here: The best gift the Phillies could have given their fans was to ensure their first World Series appearance in 13 years against the Houston Astros – the most boo-able team in Major League Baseball, a play to Philadelphia’s strengths.
José Altuve didn’t give them much time to offer the usual greeting when he stepped in the box to lead off the game. He swung at the first pitch Ranger Suarez threw him and dunked it into short right field, home of Nick Castellanos, a slugger not known for his fielding. But as he did in Game 1 of the World Series, as he has at opportune moments all October, Castellanos made a downright capable sliding catch to rob Altuve of a hit. He popped up and applauded along with the crowd behind him in right field.
Harper would be playing right field if he hadn’t hurt a ligament in his right (throwing) elbow earlier this season. He rehabbed that injury enough to return as a designated hitter, but not to throw in the outfield. Were it not for the implementation of the designated hitter in the National League this year, the Phillies would have trouble finding a spot for him, particularly at their home park. Instead, he has been the most crucial offensive contributor at the heart of everything they have achieved this postseason.
Lance McCullers threw him that curve on the first pitch. Harper sent it out into the night with such force there was no room for ambiguity: The Phillies would lead. And Harper would lead them. As he touched home plate, Harper appeared to yell something along the lines of, “My house!” and if he was implying that he and his team own this place, he is not incorrect. Entering Tuesday, the Phillies were averaging seven runs per home playoff game in 2022. Entering Wednesday, the average will remain the same.
After that swing, Harper called over third baseman Alec Bohm, whispering something in Bohm’s ear before he headed to the on-deck circle. When Bohm led off the bottom of the second, he swung at the first pitch McCullers threw him, a sinker, and hit it out just over the wall in left-center field. A few batters later, Brandon Marsh hit one that just cleared the right-field fence to become the youngest Phillie to homer in a World Series game.
Two innings later, Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins – the usual Phillies suspects – hit back-to-back homers into the crowd, in full frenzy by this time.
McCullers allowed four homers in 47⅔ regular season innings. He became the first pitcher in World Series history to allow five homers in a postseason game.
Schwarber and Hoskins hit their homers in the fifth inning, their third look at McCullers. Astros Manager Dusty Baker didn’t have anyone warming in his bullpen to begin that inning, even though McCullers had looked so exposed at times that it seemed he might be tipping his pitches. The Phillies had hammered him the first two times they saw him. They seemed unlikely to fare worse the third time. Schwarber and Hoskins both fared better. By the time McCullers left the game, the majority of the Phillies’ lineup had homered against him.
This is what the Phillies do, especially here, especially in the postseason. By the end of Tuesday’s barrage, the Phillies were averaging nearly three homers per postseason home game, a remarkable display of home-field slugging that has propelled them through teams that appeared, on paper, to be more complete.
Team architects Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld didn’t build this team to be complete. They built it to slug plenty and pitch enough and defend when it could. They built it to be able to score quickly, to take advantage of its ballpark, to put on a show. And Tuesday night, from the moment Harper began his walk to home plate, the Phillies were absolutely showstopping.
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