Harper's inside-the-parker helps Phils open pivotal series with a bang

August 22nd, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- slid across home plate, hopped up and extended his arms. He seemed to be asking teammates if they were entertained.

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

Harper hit an inside-the-park home run in the fifth inning of the Phillies’ 10-4 victory over the Giants on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, helping Philadelphia take a three-game lead over San Francisco and a 2 1/2-game lead over Chicago for the top National League Wild Card spot with 37 games to play.

“I wasn’t even thinking anything,” Harper said about his reaction after crossing home plate. “I can’t remember who said it. ‘What were you thinking?’ I have no idea. I was like, ‘All right, here we go.’”

Giants center fielder Wade Meckler twisted like a pretzel in pursuit of the ball, which ricocheted off the angled wall in center toward right field. Meckler then bobbled the ball a couple times, allowing Harper to race home.

It was Harper’s 10th homer of the season.

“My thought was it was a ball I could catch,” Meckler said. “I thought I had a play on it. By the time I realized I didn’t have a play on it, it was off the wall. Then I was just chasing it down, trying to stop him from scoring, and I didn’t pick it up clean.”

It was the Phillies’ first inside-the-park homer since J.T. Realmuto’s in Game 4 of the 2022 NL Division Series, and it was their first in the regular season since Harper’s on July 27, 2021, against the Nationals. Both of those hit off the angled wall, too.

“Thank goodness for Mr. Montgomery,” Harper said, referring to former Phillies president David Montgomery.

Montgomery, who died in 2019, helped design the dimensions at Citizens Bank Park, which opened in ‘04. He always hoped the angled wall would produce moments like the one Harper created Monday.

“That was kind of his thing, right?” Harper said. “I saw J-Roll [Jimmy Rollins] do it. I saw [Chase] Utley do it a couple times. Being able to be part of that is pretty cool.

“I saw it was over [Meckler’s] head. Any time after that, it hits that wall, it gets a pretty good kick, you have a pretty good chance. I was thinking, ‘I really don’t like hitting triples, so I might as well try to get to home.’ I was just watching [third-base coach] Dusty [Wathan].”

Harper’s inside-the-parker was the third of the Phillies’ four homers Monday, but it was easily the most fun. The four homers -- Edmundo Sosa, Alec Bohm and Kyle Schwarber also went yard -- and Aaron Nola’s best start in more than a month helped Philadelphia improve its chances to not only make the postseason for the second consecutive year but earn the top Wild Card spot.

The importance of the No. 1 Wild Card seed cannot be overstated. The winner will host the second-seeded Wild Card in a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series. It is a big deal for the obvious reason that Citizens Bank Park is a terribly difficult place for visitors to play in the postseason. But it’s also important, because if the Giants make the playoffs, the Phillies are just 6-23 (.207) at Oracle Park in San Francisco since the beginning of the 2014 season, including an active seven-game losing streak.

San Francisco holds the season tiebreaker over Philadelphia with a 3-1 lead in the season series. Even if the Phillies sweep the Giants this week to even the season series at 3-3, San Francisco would still have the edge. That’s because the second tiebreaker is intradivision record. The Giants are 18-11 against the NL West, while the Phils are 16-19 against the NL East.

The Phillies can make the tiebreaker meaningless if they pull away from the Giants.

“It’s a big first game of that series,” Harper said. “That’s a good team over there. We’re fighting for that one spot.”

It was encouraging to see Philadelphia’s offense come alive against San Francisco, which has lost 11 of its past 15 games. It was more encouraging to see Nola rebound from a rough first inning. He allowed a one-out solo homer to Joc Pederson, then loaded the bases on three straight singles. But he got a 1-2-3 double play to end the frame.

Nola allowed two runs on seven hits and one walk in seven innings. It might have been his best start since July 18, when he allowed three runs (two earned) in 7 1/3 innings against the Brewers.

“The double play was huge,” Nola said. “I feel like I settled down after that.”