PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper left the on-deck circle and met Phillies hitting coach Joe Dillon at the top step of the dugout in the seventh inning on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park. Dillon handed Harper an iPad. He swiped the screen a few times as he processed the information in front of him.
The Cubs just brought left-hander Rex Brothers into the game, and Harper wanted to see a few things. Harper was 1-for-6 with one walk and one strikeout in his career against Brothers, whom he had faced only once since 2017. Maybe the review helped. Or maybe Harper is just going to hit everything these days as he puts together one of the greatest offensive seasons in Phillies history. Harper crushed a first-pitch slider from Brothers into the second deck in right field for a three-run home run in a 17-8 victory.
Phillies fans roared.
“MVP! MVP! MVP!”
“It feels good,” Harper said. “But we have a while to go. I just want to keep playing well and have good at-bats. Have good games. Just be where we need to be down the stretch.”
Harper went 3-for-4 with two doubles, one home run, four RBIs, two walks and one strikeout in another strong performance for the National League MVP candidate. He helped the Phillies not only overcome a 7-0 deficit in the third inning, but he helped them become the first NL team in the Modern Era to overcome a deficit of seven-plus runs to win by nine-plus runs, according to STATS.
It was the type of game that can make even a skeptical Phillies fan wonder if they can catch the Braves in the NL East with 16 games to play. Thursday’s victory cut Atlanta’s lead to three. It cut the Cardinals’ lead for the second NL Wild Card to 2 1/2.
Harper is leading the charge. He is slashing .314/.428/.627 with 36 doubles, one triple, 33 home runs, 77 RBIs and a 1.055 OPS, which is the 11th-highest OPS in baseball in the past 10 seasons. Harper is on pace to become the fourth Phillies player since 1900 to slash .300/.400/.600 (minimum 500 plate appearances). Ryan Howard (2006), Chuck Klein (1929-30, 1932-33) and Lefty O’Doul (1929-30) are the others. Harper entered the game with a 180 OPS+. Only Mike Schmidt (198 OPS+ in 1981) and Dick Allen (181 OPS+ in 1966) have been better since 1900.
“I really don’t want to look at my numbers,” Harper said. “I haven’t looked at my numbers. I don’t like Joe [Girardi] showing me my numbers. I don’t let my friends show me my numbers. I don’t let [wife] Kayla or anything, I don’t look at it on Instagram. Every time my eyes even come close to looking at something, it’s out of it as quickly as possible. I really worry about the season. I’m a very big ‘season’ guy. I’ll look at my numbers at the end.
“I know it’s kind of crazy and it doesn’t make sense, but I don’t like MVP talk, I don’t like looking at my numbers, I don’t like looking where I’m at or where I’m at in the second half or anything like that. I just want to play my game. I just want to show up every night and make sure I’m playing right field and batting third and helping this team win.”
The Phillies are making every fifth game a bullpen game the rest of the season, but the last two have gone terribly for them. They spotted the Cubs a 7-0 lead in the third, but Harper sparked a seven-run rally in the fourth with a leadoff double off the top of the left-field wall. Harper worked a walk later in the inning, which set up J.T. Realmuto’s two-run single to tie the game at 7.
Harper doubled to left field to score the go-ahead run in the sixth.
Then he hit the rocket shot in the seventh.
“It’s been a show for quite a while here,” Girardi said. “His numbers are incredible. It’s not the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs. It’s the Most Valuable Player of the season. I think he’s earning it.”
But don’t ask Harper about it. He insists he doesn’t want to know.
“My buddies know, all my friends know … they don't text me about that stuff,” he said. “They don't say anything about it. My pops doesn't either. So I stay away from it completely. Let the chips fall where they may.”