If the Philadelphia Phillies allowed themselves to dream on it, signing Bryce Harper meant returning to the World Series. On Sunday, the dream became reality when Harper belted a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning of a rain-soaked NLCS Game 5 to topple the San Diego Padres, 4-3, and clinch a trip to the Fall Classic.
Signed for 13 years and $330 million prior to 2019, Harper’s tenure in Philadelphia had, until June, been a frustrating combination of individual excellence and collective mediocrity. The team took off after firing manager Joe Girardi and replacing him with bench coach Rob Thomson. Despite being the NL East’s third-best team, they powered into the playoff picture over the summer and held on to the sixth and final spot in an expanded postseason field in September.
Now, playing their own distinct brand of sometimes-chaotic baseball, they have claimed the NL pennant and the franchise’s first World Series berth since 2009.
Game 5 was influenced by wet conditions throughout. Having already condensed the playoff schedule following the lockout, MLB chose to play the game through rain in Philadelphia. There was only one off day built into the NLCS and ALCS schedules — after Game 2 — instead of the usual two.
In the top of the seventh, a downpour seemed to flip the teams’ fortunes when the Padres brought the go-ahead run around on a series of wild pitches by Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez.
But Harper responded the following inning, blasting his momentous homer off San Diego setup man Robert Suarez. That followed a Game 4 where Harper capped a raucous Phillies comeback with a go-ahead RBI double.
The Phillies turned to trade deadline acquisition David Robertson in the ninth, but eventually brought in Game 3 starter Ranger Suarez to get the last two outs after two Padres reached.
Harper, a two-time NL MVP, is writing an October legend. Despite strong teams, his time on the Nationals produced zero playoff series victories. Now he has three. Batting over .400 in the postseason so far, Harper is scorching hot heading into the first World Series appearance of a career that has been under the microscope since Sports Illustrated dubbed him the “chosen one” at age 16.
He looks to be just that for a Philadelphia fan base that suffered through disappointment at the end of the era headlined by Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, then a long and winding rebuild.
In a rematch from Game 1, Zack Wheeler and Yu Darvish largely controlled the action early. They each pitched into the seventh inning, allowing two runs apiece, but neither factored in the decision.
A Padres win would have meant the series returning to San Diego for Game 6 and potentially Game 7. Instead, Philadelphia is celebrating a pennant Sunday night and preparing for a clash with either the Astros or Yankees. Houston, up 3-0 in the ALCS, could seal that matchup as early as Sunday night in the Bronx.
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