Bryce Harper got things started for the Phillies in Game 3, showing all the attributes he’s used to drive his team to within two wins of a World Series win.
It only took 18 pitches for Bryce Harper to see it.
Before the bottom half of the second inning, Harper leaned over the Phillies’ dugout railing and whispered into Alec Bohm’s ear. Harper and manager Rob Thompson said sharing information before at-bats is common. While the Astros said they “didn’t see anything,” broadcast video revealed what appeared to be Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. tipping his pitches.
On the first pitch, Bohm homered to put the Phillies up 4-0. The Phillies eventually won, 7-0, and hit five total home runs. And in a season in which McCullers didn’t allow one homer off a breaking pitch, he surrendered three on such pitches in 4.1 innings on Tuesday night.
“It’s pretty evident what kind of threat [the Phillies lineup] poses,” Baker said, adding that he didn’t believe McCullers was tipping his pitches. “They can hit the ball out of the ballpark and they can hit.”
Bryce Harper has given everything the Phillies they hoped for and more
Game 3 was what Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski envisioned when constructing his roster. Sure, after signing Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos for a combined $179 million, questions persisted about how they’d be deployed defensively. But they could mash. In a lineup that featured those two, Harper, J.T. Realmuto and other emerging young players, they believed that few, if any, lineups could compete with them.
It wasn’t always pretty. Throughout the regular season, the Phillies sputtered, and were on the verge of missing the playoffs altogether. Then their epic comeback against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the wild card series happened and everything changed.
It starts with Harper, who has hit six home runs in 13 playoff games and emerged as the best player throughout the postseason. His impact for the Phillies both on and off the field has been immeasurable. He’s a leader in the clubhouse. He’s helped mentor young players on the roster. He continually stepped up in big moments, as he did once again with a first-inning two-run homer, and by sharing the information he did with Bohm only an inning later.
To those closest to Harper, it comes as little surprise. Baker, who managed Harper with the Nationals, said: “He’s a very astute baseball player, a very astute person. That’s what good hitters do. They pass on whatever information they can find and see. … But, no, that doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Said Thomson: “Since the postseason started he’s been on fire. This is what he did last year the entire second half. He was that good.”
Harper and Bohm emphasized that it’s a collective effort. Schwarber mashed a 443-foot home run. Brandon Marsh and Rhys Hoskins also homered. Bryson Stott once again put together good at-bats and worked the counts. Combined with a pitching staff led by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, as well as Ranger Suarez who threw five shutout innings on Monday night, it’s been the recipe for the Phillies’ stunning postseason surge.
The Phillies are now in position to take command of the series. Nola will start Game 4. Their top relievers, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado, each will have had four days rest and will allow Thomson to deploy them aggressively in Games 4 or 5, something he has done with tremendous success throughout the postseason.
Inside the Astros’ clubhouse, they insist they will not panic. They have made six consecutive American League Championship Series and appeared in four World Series in that span. Baker noted that last postseason, they lost 12-3 in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, corrected certain things and went on to win the series. So they have experience in these situations.
There’s reason for concern, however. The Astros’ lineup showed no signs of life against Suarez and the bottom of the Phillies’ bullpen. Philadelphia is undefeated (6-0) at Citizens Bank Park in the playoffs. In the first three games, Thomson has consistently out-managed Baker and has put his team in better positions to succeed.
But on Tuesday, it was Harper who made the biggest difference. It’s moments like these why the Phillies signed him to a 13-year, $330 million contract in 2019. He’s more than delivered, with his bat, glove and baseball IQ, and some team executives have even joked privately that he’s actually underpaid.
After the game, Bohm declined to reveal what Harper told him before the second inning, telling Fox Sports in an in-game interview: “That’s between us.”
He doubled down after the game.
What did Harper say?
Did it help during the at-bat?
Whatever Harper told Bohm, it clearly helped, and brought the Phillies within two games of winning the World Series.