Make a wish! Bryce crushes birthday homer

October 17th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- For years,  pined to play a baseball game on his birthday. As a National, he never made it deep enough in the postseason to achieve that feat. As a Phillie, Harper didn’t reach the playoffs until last year, when his birthday happened to fall on an off-day following the National League Division Series.

An October birthday may come with its perks -- crisp fall weather chief among them -- but it doesn’t often afford opportunities for on-field excellence.

So when Harper finally received that chance on Monday, he made it count, becoming the fourth player in AL/NL history to homer on his birthday in the postseason. As he crossed home plate in the first inning of the Phillies’ 5-3 win over the D-backs in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series, Harper flashed three fingers on his left hand and one on his right, then he pretended to blow them out like candles on his 31st birthday.

Citizens Bank Park, as teammate Kyle Schwarber put it, “went nuts” in response.

“It’s pretty cool to play on your birthday when your birthday’s this late,” Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said. “I think that’s a big deal.”

Harper joined Willie Aikens, Evan Longoria and Kolten Wong as the only players to homer on their birthdays in the postseason. He and Aikens are the only ones to do so in an LCS or World Series, as well as the only players to do it as part of a multihit effort.

Harper added an RBI single in the third inning and a walk in the fifth, reaching base three times and scoring twice. Aikens, a prominent member of the 1980 Royals, still holds the distinction as the only birthday boy to homer twice in a postseason game.

“Pretty good birthday swings he had today,” said Schwarber, whose leadoff homer keyed the Phillies’ first multihomer first inning in franchise postseason history. “It’s really cool to see a player like that really excel in these stages and show everyone what he’s all about.”

Thirty-one looks good on Harper. His day began with a midnight text from his wife, Kayla, who made sure to be the first to offer him well wishes. He spoke pregame about his excitement to play on this of all days. Then he went out and made his birthday exponentially more memorable.

Facing NL Cy Young Award contender Zac Gallen in the first inning with one out, the bases empty and Schwarber already home following a leadoff homer, Harper smashed a first-pitch fastball to right-center field, where it bounced off a railing and ricocheted into the home bullpen. As he rounded third base, Harper dreamed up the candle celebration, which he executed as he touched home plate.

“It’s crazy,” Harper said. “Sometimes I just do stuff, and that felt right.”

Back in the dugout, Turner thought Harper was throwing up four fingers to signify his four home runs already this postseason. The logic seemed sound enough; Harper has spent his October serving as arguably the NL’s most potent hitter, slashing .409/.567/.955 in 30 plate appearances, with seven RBIs, nine runs scored and eight walks.

Dating to last year, the Phillies are 9-0 when Harper homers in a postseason game. That’s been crucial, considering Harper has gone deep four times in his past five contests.

“This guy, he’s looking for the moment,” Schwarber said. “He wants it. He’s doing such an unbelievable job for us. When he is going up to the plate, you’re just thinking he is going to do something special every single time. Can that be unfair to have an expectation on a player? Sure. But that’s what everyone’s thinking when you’re in the dugout: 'Man, what’s this guy going to do next?'”