- Covers MLB for ESPN.com
- Former deputy editor of Page 2
- Been with ESPN.com since 1995
Thursday night was the biggest game of the season for the Philadelphia Phillies — every game is now the biggest game of the season, as they’re in desperation mode, trying to track down the Braves in the NL East, or the Cardinals, Reds and Padres for the second wild card. That is the drama and pressure of a late-season playoff push: Every game feels like a must-win game; every at-bat is pressure-packed.
In his first plate appearance in the bottom of the first, Harper faced Cubs veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks with a runner on first and one out, the game still 0-0. After Harper swung at a first-pitch sinker, Hendricks threw six straight changeups, and Harper finally walked. Only one of the seven pitches was in the strike zone.
Harper led off the bottom of the fourth, the Cubs now leading 7-0 after exploding for seven runs in the third inning. Harper worked the count full, and Hendricks — not wanting to walk him with a big lead — threw a changeup at the top of the zone that Harper drilled to left field at 100.7 mph, off the top of the wall for a double.
That started a big Phillies rally, and Harper came up again later in the inning, the score now 7-5 with runners on first and third and two outs. The Phillies were wearing their 1970s/’80s throwbacks, the blue uniforms with the maroon racing stripe down the side. Harper glared in at Hendricks, eye black under his eyes, several days of growth on his beard, perfectly color coordinated with the maroon sleeves and even a maroon shin guard. He looked as resplendent as Mike Schmidt in his prime. Hendricks walked him on four pitches, and J.T. Realmuto greeted a reliever with a game-tying single.
Harper’s fourth plate appearance came in the sixth, the game still tied at 7, runners at first and second with one out. There was nowhere to put him this time, unless you want to load the bases. A hard-throwing Cubs rookie named Manuel Rodriguez was pitching. He threw a slider a foot outside, a slide for a strike, and then Harper swung through a 98 mph fastball. The next pitch was a good slider, just off the outside corner. Harper beautifully went with the pitch and lined an RBI double down the left-field line for an 8-7 Phillies lead. He stood at second base and clapped twice.
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