Bryce Harper delivers more heroics for Phillies on grand, 3-homer night to remember


PHILADELPHIA — There were two outs in the 10th inning Monday night when Bryce Harper stepped into the on-deck circle as the potential tying run. Backup catcher Garrett Stubbs was in the dugout and he found Whit Merrifield, one of the only new guys on this Phillies team.

“Man,” Stubbs said, “you’re going to want to watch this.”

Often, time stops at Citizens Bank Park when Harper bats. It is an inequitable expectation in a sport when the greatest are successful 30 percent of the time. That is what makes Harper special. He has met the highest expectations again and again.

He struck out on five pitches to end Monday’s game.

“Obviously, it didn’t work out,” Stubbs said. “It doesn’t always work out. But it damn near feels like it always works out.”

That’s Harper. He started the season hitless in 11 at-bats, then cranked three homers against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday in a 9-4 win they’ll remember here for its ridiculousness. Harper, clad in a red ski mask, punctuated the bitter-cold night with a grand slam in the seventh inning. It was the first time all season the Phillies (2-3) could relax.

They cruised because Ricardo Pinto, who last appeared in the majors five years ago and didn’t arrive at the ballpark until the third inning because his driver hit traffic on a 350-mile drive from Rochester, N.Y., tossed the final four innings for a save.

“That was way cooler than the three homers,” Bryson Stott said. “We didn’t even know he was here.”

“That’s a baseball player,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “It’s like American Legion.”

“Absolute grinder move out of him,” Stubbs said.

But this was Harper’s night. His six RBIs were a new career-best. His homers traveled 1,209 feet total. He was just the fifth Phillies player to hit three homers in a game this century. (Brad Miller, Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard and Mike Lieberthal were the others.)

“That’s what the great players do,” Thomson said. “They have big nights like that. And we needed it. That grand slam, everybody could exhale a little bit. And that was huge.”

It had been nine years since Harper’s last three-homer game. He was 22 then and just embarking on an MVP season. Harper has a photographic memory when it comes to his at-bats. What did he remember about that game against the Marlins?

“Tom Koehler,” he said.

Yes. Koehler allowed all three homers.

“I think in June maybe,” Harper said. “No, May 7th.”

It was May 6, 2015. Close.

“Left field,” Harper said. “Right field, right field? I think I went into the bullpen over Ichiro’s head.”

He had the sequence right. The first one sailed over Ichiro and into the visitors’ bullpen at Nationals Park.

Harper recalled one last detail.

“J.T. caught that day,” Harper said.

“Don’t remind me,” said Realmuto, now his teammate.

The Phillies were certain all day they would not play Tuesday night, when temperatures were in the mid-40s. Thomson managed his bullpen Monday night like he expected a rainout on Tuesday. The players milled around the clubhouse in the afternoon. If the game was postponed, Pinto might have never been added to the roster. This was something the Phillies did not tell him. “My mind was ready to pitch today,” Pinto said. In the meantime, batting practice was indoors. Stott hit with Harper.

“I was watching him in the cage,” Stott said. “And I told him I’d take the credit because I told him to stand upright a little bit more. Then he hit three homers. He does something every single day, it feels like. It gets to a point where you’re like, ‘Meh, like, how am I surprised? It just happens.’”

This is why, two pitches into Harper’s final at-bat, Stott turned to Kevin Long. He told the hitting coach that Harper was going deep for a third time.

“It’s been done before,” Long said.

Harper worked a full count against veteran lefty Brent Suter, who had held him hitless in four career at-bats. “Even if I punch out right there 3-2,” Harper said, “I still felt like I was pretty good that at-bat.” He swatted a down-and-in sinker.

“I think everyone kind of … you don’t want to say expect it, obviously, because that’s insane,” Stott said. “But it’s not a surprise when something crazy does happen. So he’s pretty special.”

Bryce Harper is interviewed after his three-homer game. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

The start to this season is uneven because it’s the Phillies and that is what they do. Harper is the pacesetter; something is amiss whenever he is in a funk. He missed most of the last 10 days of spring training. He was not happy with his swing when the team departed Florida. He felt better about his at-bats to begin the season despite the results.

One game — even an extraordinary game — won’t solve it. But the Phillies could laugh. They won a game started by Spencer Turnbull and finished by Pinto, who replaced Connor Brogdon on the roster. They saved an overtaxed bullpen.

They witnessed another Harper feat.

After his second homer but before his third of the night, Harper scorched a ball to center field. It was a sinking liner in the gap that Reds center fielder Will Benson snared like a snow cone. Harper ripped off his helmet and muttered a few angry words.

Stott saw this as quintessential Harper.

That’s so him,” Stott said. “Already two home runs. Hits a ball, guy makes a Willie Mays catch out there. And he’s more mad about that than anything else. Kudos to him. He leaves everything behind him and goes on to the next at-bat.”

Harper laughed about it.

“You have two, you want three,” Harper said. “You get three, you want four. Right? That’s the mindset. I’m not satisfied with one or two or three or whatever. I want to go out there and I expect myself to do that every night. It’s just what I expect out of myself. And I know my teammates do as well. I’m definitely happy with the way the night went. I just want to keep going and turn the page.”

He’ll use the same bat in Wednesday’s game. “Oh yeah,” Harper said. He will probably wear the red ski mask again.

“I think we all will, yeah,” Harper said.

It was miserable outside. And it was worth playing, after all. Harper added to his Philadelphia legend. He’ll remember that feeling — the rush of being so locked in on every pitch. What else does he hope to remember about the three-homer night in 20 years?

“Hopefully,” Harper said, “it was the start of us winning one. You know? That would be cool.”

(Top photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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