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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bryce Harper ignites Phillies to topple Diamondbacks and return home one win from World Series

Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto acknowledges his teammates in the bullpen after his two-run home run Saturday’s against Arizona.  (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
By Scott Lauber Philadelphia Inquirer

PHOENIX – Don’t call it a knockout blow. Not yet. Not with one game left to win before the Phillies can punch a return ticket to the World Series.

A forearm shiver? Oh, it was definitely that. But however we choose to regard it, let’s agree on one thing about Bryce Harper’s first-inning dash up the third-base line, which ended with his left arm smashing into Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno’s jaw.

It set a tone.

The Phillies may say they never suffered any crisis of confidence after back-to-back losses in the desert evened the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. But as a group, they’re big believers in momentum, and going into Saturday night, they had next to none.

There was Harper, taking off from third base as soon as Moreno threw to second on a scripted double steal. He plowed into the catcher to open a two-run lead in an eventual 6-1 victory in a Game 5 that felt as close to a must-win as the Phillies have faced this postseason.

Go ahead and exhale. Because you can bet Harper’s teammates did.

The Phillies busted it open in the sixth inning on solo homers by Kyle Schwarber and Harper, both of whom tied Jayson Werth’s franchise record with their 11th career postseason homers. Like they did in the first inning of Game 1, the Phillies’ lefty sluggers teed off on Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen.

But long before that, Harper grabbed the season and pulled it back from the brink. The NLCS is heading back to South Philadelphia, and the Phillies will get two chances to wrap it up and win their second consecutive pennant, beginning Monday night when Aaron Nola takes the mound.

The odds are in their favor. When a road team won Game 5 to seize a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series, it has won the series 22 of 28 times, including seven of eight times in LCS play, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As Chip Diller said in “Animal House,” all is well.

Thanks, in large part, to Harper.

There were other star turns. With the bullpen exhausted after Game 3 and particularly Game 4, Zack Wheeler delivered seven innings in another stellar postseason start. He muted the Diamondbacks for the first six, then regrouped after giving up a solo homer to Alek Thomas in the seventh.

In 26 innings over four starts this October, Wheeler has allowed a total of six earned runs for a 2.08 ERA. In 10 playoff starts over the last two years, he has a 2.48 ERA that rates with the best pitchers in team history. Only Ryan Madson (2.31), Cliff Lee (2.33) and Roy Halladay (2.37) have better marks in 30 or more postseason innings.

J.T. Realmuto slugged a two-run homer in the eighth inning to provide more breathing room. Jeff Hoffman, Seranthony Domínguez and Matt Strahm came out of that tired bullpen and recorded the final six outs, including a game-ending strikeout of Diamondbacks star rookie Corbin Carroll, who is 2 for 19 in the series. Slugging first baseman Christian Walker is 2 for 17 with eight strikeouts.

And then there was Schwarber, who started the first-inning rally before homering to right field in the sixth.

The Phillies were aggressive early in the count against Gallen in Game 1. They figured he would try to establish his fastball and suspected it may be flatter than usual considering he has pitched more than 230 innings, including the postseason.

It worked. Schwarber and Harper ambushed him for homers on the first and fifth pitches of a 5-3 victory.

And this time?

“If you go back and look at the way he assessed his last outing, he talked a little bit about some lack of execution,” Schwarber said before Game 5. “For us, it’s going to be, get him in the zone. When we do get that pitch, don’t miss it.”

Schwarber’s first swing came on the game’s fourth pitch. He didn’t miss. But instead of crushing a fastball 420 feet, he tapped a curveball 30 feet down the first-base line for an infield single.

But the Phillies, scoreboard front-runners for most of the postseason, didn’t miss an opportunity to grab another early lead.

Harper lined a one-out single up the middle before Bryson Stott stroked a two-out single to right field that scored Schwarber from second base.

With runs perhaps at more of a premium against Gallen the second time around, the Phillies put on the double steal. Stott took off from first base and stopped halfway to second. The Diamondbacks had two choices: Get Stott in a rundown, which would enable Harper to score, or try to cut down Harper at the plate.

Either way, Harper broke for home like a freight train.

Second baseman Ketel Marte pivoted and threw to the plate. Harper collided with Moreno, and the ball skipped away.

The Phillies controlled the game thereafter.

And now, once again, they control the series.