PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper was the only starting position player for the Phillies without a hit on Monday, and he even heard another chorus of boos from the hometown faithful following his third strikeout of the night in the fifth inning.
Yet it was Harper who made the potential game-saving play — using his glove, not his bat — for the Phillies in a 7-4 win over the Brewers at Citizens Bank Park.
With the bases loaded, two outs and the game tied at 4 in the top of the seventh inning, Brewers second baseman Mike Moustakas ripped a line drive to right field. Harper raced toward the line and made a sprawling catch to end the frame — and save two, if not three, runs in the process.
“I kind of thought to myself, ‘Either they’re going to score three right here or we’re going to win this game,’” Harper said.
It proved to be the latter, with the Phillies turning a couple of Brewers’ misplays into three runs in the bottom of the inning to take a commanding three-run lead. The rally actually started with a leadoff strikeout by Jean Segura, who reached safely after whiffing at a strike-three pitch that skipped to the backstop.
After Harper lined out and Rhys Hoskins struck out — a play that would have ended the inning, if not for Segura reaching on his strikeout — J.T. Realmuto ripped an RBI double into the left-center field gap. Following a Cesar Hernandez walk, Odúbel Herrera lined a two-run double to left-center field to push the lead to three. Herrera’s hit had a catch probability of 65 percent, according to Statcast, but it cleared Hernan Perez’s outstretched glove after the outfielder took an indirect route to the ball.
Yet it was Harper’s catch that made it all possible.
“The catch was sensational,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “Pivotal moment in the game. It really won the game for us in a lot of ways.”
For Harper, it also served as a reminder that he can still impact the outcome even though he’s been scuffling at the plate. Since his career-best five-hit night in Colorado on April 19, Harper is just 11-for-73 (.151) with 29 strikeouts in his last 21 games. That includes his 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance on Monday that dropped his season average to .222.
It was also Harper’s 19th game this season with multiple strikeouts, three more than any other player.
“It’s both sides of the ball,” Harper said. “You’ve got to stay focused on both sides of the ball, no matter your outcomes at the plate or anything like that. My pitchers need me, and I need to be playing to the best of my ability out there.”
Kapler said that Harper’s offensive slump only makes his game-saving defensive play all the more impressive.
“It’s not an easy thing to do. It really isn’t,” Kapler said. “When you’re struggling to make contributions on offense, you have to remind yourself that you can change a game with your defense — and Bryce was able to do that tonight.”
Harper’s catch and the ensuing rally led the Phillies to a victory on a night when starter Aaron Nola lasted only three innings following a 52-minute rain delay. He allowed three runs on five hits and three walks, while needing 84 pitches to complete his three frames. The right-hander, who said it was “pretty much everything” that led to his abbreviated outing, has a 4.86 ERA on the season.
“Just kind of in-the-zone, out-of-the-zone stuff,” Nola said. “The pitch [count] just kept creeping up. It was pretty embarrassing on my part, but the bullpen came in and did their part.”
Despite Nola’s struggles on the mound and Harper’s woes at the plate, the Phillies pulled out a seemingly improbable come-from-behind victory to kick off a 20-game stretch in which all but three games will come against teams with a winning record right now.
“It was a really good team win against a pretty good ballclub,” Nola said. “Every game is important right now, especially this month, with the teams that we have coming up.”