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Harper clobbers clutch 3-run HR in victory

@MannyOnMLB
April 21, 2019

DENVER -- What a difference a day makes. The Phillies suffered their toughest loss of the season on Friday night, when the Rockies got a stunning two-out, two-strike, walk-off home run from Charlie Blackmon in the 12th inning after Philadelphia had taken the lead moments earlier. Nineteen runners were stranded

DENVER -- What a difference a day makes.

The Phillies suffered their toughest loss of the season on Friday night, when the Rockies got a stunning two-out, two-strike, walk-off home run from Charlie Blackmon in the 12th inning after Philadelphia had taken the lead moments earlier. Nineteen runners were stranded on base, clutch hits were non-existent before Bryce Harper’s go-ahead double in the 12th, and hot-hitting Scott Kingery was lost to the injured list.

One swing of the bat put Friday’s woes out of mind, even if just for a night.

On a 1-2 slider from Rockies left-hander Mike Dunn with two on, two out and Philadelphia clinging to a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, Harper smashed a three-run homer over the right-field wall and into Colorado’s bullpen, the big blow in an 8-5 Phillies victory Saturday night at Coors Field.

“We know that every team is going to bring in their toughest left-hander to face Bryce in the biggest moments,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And if he’s swinging the bat well against those guys, what are you going to do if you’re the opposition?”

Part of the answer to that question would be executing pitches with precision, something that Dunn had done up until his fourth offering to Harper.

“I hung a slider. I missed my spot,” Dunn said. “He did what a hitter is supposed to do -- hit it. At that point, I'd thrown four other sliders the whole inning and they were all in decent spots, and that one I missed to the complete opposite side of the plate."

Harper, Philadelphia’s prized offseason acquisition and anchor of the lineup, had been mired in a 3-for-24 slump prior to his career-high five-hit night on Friday and his homer on Saturday. Meanwhile, Saturday’s Phillies starter and the anchor of the club’s starting rotation, Aaron Nola, was fighting to regain the form that placed him third in National League Cy Young Award voting last season, coming off three starts over which his ERA was 10.13.

On Friday, Harper’s heroics were nullified in what Kapler called “a brutal loss” and a “crushing blow.” On Saturday, Blackmon took Nola’s first pitch of the game and deposited it over the wall in right-center field for his second homer in as many pitches. There appeared to be no reprieve in sight, and Nola would labor from there.

But he worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the third with a pair of strikeouts, and two more jams in the fourth and fifth innings to preserve Philadelphia’s 4-3 lead before giving way to the bullpen.

While he gave up three runs on nine hits overall, including two home runs (one of which was an inside-the-park homer to Raimel Tapia), Nola struck out nine and walked only one. The anchor of the rotation saw glimmers of his old self before the anchor of the lineup delivered what had to be a cathartic clutch hit after all that transpired Friday night.

“I turned things around mentally when I struck out [Tapia and Garrett Hampson] to strand the bases loaded in the third,” Nola said. “I just had to slow my mind down. Slow the game down. There’s no other way to do it besides slowing it down.”

“I’d like to start with Nola today,” Kapler said to reporters before any postgame questions were asked. “I just went and watched the at-bats from the fifth inning. … He dotted fastballs inside and right on the black. That was as good as we’ve seen Nola this season. I actually think his stuff was spinning more from the dugout, it had more life from the dugout, and in this air, it wasn’t even moving as much as we think it will going forward.”

Beyond Harper’s homer and Nola’s improvement, the looming depth chart situation for the Phillies after Kingery suffered a strained right hamstring Friday, leaving them with one shortstop on the 25-man roster, was also addressed, even if just for a night.

Philadelphia native Phil Gosselin, who grew up a Phillies fan going to Veterans Stadium and was thrust into the starting shortstop role, delivered a bases-clearing double in the fourth inning to give his new team a 4-3 lead.

“I had been up with the bases loaded a lot with the Phillies before,” Gosselin said. “It was just in the backyard as a kid.”

The Phillies face challenges going forward, to be sure. Kingery, Jean Segura, Odubel Herrera, David Robertson and Victor Arano are all sidelined. Depth is thin, the bullpen is taxed, and the grind continues.

But even if for just a night Saturday, the pendulum swung back toward what the Phillies envision for the rest of the season, with their two anchors playing a central role.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.