Tuesday, November 28 2023

PHILADELPHIA − Bryce Harper had to be kidding, right?

He was on first base when Nick Castellanos hit a line drive into the left field corner. The play was in front of Harper as he passed second base with a full head of steam, his helmet already off and his hair flying out of his bandana as he neared third base.

But Harper wasn’t stopping as third base coach Dusty Wathan, now halfway down the third base line, raised both arms above his head, signaling for Harper to stop.

Harper kept going, sliding into home plate to give the Phillies a 4-1 lead in the eighth inning.

Three outs later, the Phillies had taken Game 1 of their best-of-3 National League Wild Card Series against the Miami Marlins by that same score on Tuesday night.

“Sometimes he runs through stop signs,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said with a nonchalant shrug.

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Incredibly, this is what Harper said after the game about his decision to keep going: “Once I kind of got halfway to third, I didn’t really pick Dusty up, so that was my fault on that.”

Harper said this with a straight face, not winking his eye, not chuckling, or anything. It was a performance straight out of central casting.

Then Harper continued: “Usually, when I see (Wathan), I’m usually like, ‘OK, I gotta stop.’ He’s got a really good eye over there. It just worked out in that situation. Nine times out of 10, I’m going to stop in that situation because, like I said, Dusty does a great job over there. It worked out that time. It got us to 4-1. Good momentum going into he ninth and getting us through.”

But even if we take Harper at his word, he was still making a statement about the Phillies’ postseason expectations.

And it was a simple one: Good luck putting up a roadblock in front of these Phillies.

They had grinded their way last season from the wildcard to Game 6 of the World Series before falling to the Houston Astros. And they grinded their through so much again this season.

There was Harper having offseason elbow surgery that kept him out until the beginning of May, then took him 2 months to get his power stroke back. There was shortstop Trea Turner enduring nearly four dreadful months of booing and poor play after signing a $300 million free agent deal before turning it around in August and September, and again in Game 1 with two hits.

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper in action during the Game 1 in an NL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Miami Marlins, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 4-1,Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper in action during the Game 1 in an NL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Miami Marlins, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 4-1,

And there was Kyle Schwarber hitting about .160 into the beginning of June, mostly as the leadoff hitter.

And then there were the roadblocks put up Tuesday night, some of them by Wathan himself. In the first inning, with Schwarber on third base and no one out, Alec Bohm sent a fly ball to right field. Wathan held Schwarber at third instead of letting him tag up.

Sure, Wathan couldn’t have known that Marlins right fielder Jesus Sanchez would throw the ball off line. Still, Wathan made the safe call with the heart of the lineup coming up. But Harper struck out and J.T. Realmuto flied out to center to end the inning, and the Phillies didn’t score.

Schwarber gave a sigh of disbelief at third base.

“My job right away is to think, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ until I’m told otherwise,” Schwarber said about scoring. “(Wathan) put up the stop sign. We talked about it. And everything makes sense. You’re in the first inning, you’ve got big momentum, and no outs. Say the guy makes a perfect throw and you’re out at home plate. Then it’s a guy at third base with two outs instead of 2nd and 3rd with one out and Bryce up at the plate.

“(Wathan) made the right decision, and I think he’d do it again.”

Except he didn’t.

In the fourth inning, the Phillies were leading 1-0 and again had runners on second and third and none out. This time, Bryson Stott singled sharply to center field, scoring Realmuto from third. But Wathan also waved around Nick Castellanos, who was on second.

He was thrown out.

That’s two decisions that cost the Phillies two runs.

Stott, however, had gone to second on the throw, then to third on a wild pitch. And Cristian Pache, making his postseason debut, singled in Stott for a 3-0 lead.

Certainly, starting pitcher Zack Wheeler was making those decisions seem irrelevant. He was dominating the Marlins into the seventh inning, having thrown just 72 pitches through six. In fact, Wheeler’s performance was reminiscent of the night Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS in 2010.

“Wheels was fantastic all night,” Thomson said. “This guy’s been consistent all year. He’s been really good. I thought his stuff was as good or better than any other start all year.”

And then Wheeler ran into trouble in the seventh. The Marlins had already scored a run, and had the potential tying run on second base with Jose Alvarado pitching.

Alvarado struck out pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel to end the inning. Wheeler allowed just a run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings while striking out eight.

Through seven postseason starts with the Phillies, Wheeler has a 2.55 ERA.

His mindset is a simple one: “Just go deep into the games, good quality innings, try to save the bullpen because I know it’s going to be a long road ahead of us,” Wheeler said. “That’s the biggest goal.”

But nothing was settled just yet.

The Phillies needed Wheeler, not to mention the contributions from two players making their postseason debuts in Pache and center fielder Johan Rojas.

Rojas scored the Phillies’ first run in the third inning when he led off with a single, went to second on a wild pitch. Two outs later, he scored on Alec Bohm’s double.

Rojas was asked after the game if he was nervous:

He responded in English, “Nah.”

Then Rojas continued in Spanish as a Phillies official translated into English. “It’s funny because it’s the first playoff game of my career. I never played a playoff game in the minor leagues. I just said to myself, ‘You know what? Just go up there, step foot on the field and enjoy. Have fun. Do what you know how to do.’ That’s what I did.”

Clearly, Rojas and Pache weren’t putting up with roadblocks either. Pache showed this on the first batter of the game. Playing left field, he made a nice running catch on Luis Arraez‘s line drive. Arraez led the major leagues with a .354 average.

Then in the eighth inning, the game getting tenser by the moment, Harper ran through Wathan’s stop sign. After all, Game 2 awaited Wednesday with a chance to clinch, and there was no way Harper was going to let anything stop him or the Phillies from having a chance to reach the next round.

“He just so aggressive, and he wants to win,’ Thomson said. “He wants to score. It’s not like I tell him, ‘Hey, if somebody tells you not to run, go ahead and run if you want to.’

“He’s just so instinctive and so aggressive.”

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on X @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How Phillies Bryce Harper sent message running past coach’s stop sign

Source: Yahoo Sports


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