PHILADELPHIA -- Jean Segura earlier this month heard a fan in the stands at Nationals Park ask him about his favorite ice cream flavor.
“Vanilla,” he replied.
Two pitches later, he smacked a game-tying double in the ninth inning. Fans on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park loudly chanted “Jean! Jean! Jean!” as he dug into the batter’s box for the eighth pitch of an 11th-inning at-bat in a 7-6 victory over the D-backs. Segura laced a single to right field to score Ronald Torreyes for his fourth walk-off hit of the season. The victory moved the Phillies (64-64) back to .500 and kept them 5 1/2 games behind the Braves (69-58) in the National League East with 34 games to play.
“This time I really didn’t hear anything,” Segura said. “I just went up there and locked myself in and tried to see the pitch and hit it. Fortunately, I got a hit and we walked off with a win.”
It was a wild one for the Phillies.
It started a few hours before the game when they learned they lost catcher Andrew Knapp, infielder Luke Williams and right-hander Zach Eflin to the COVID-19 injured list. Each player is fully vaccinated, so these are breakthrough cases, but the Phillies needed to conduct contact tracing with the rest of the team.
The Phillies pushed back first pitch from 7:05 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. because they needed to make sure J.T. Realmuto could play.
“If J.T. comes up positive, we don’t have a catcher,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
Bryce Harper’s two-run homer in the third inning gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Harper has been on a tear lately and he could be a top-five finisher for the National League MVP Award. Fernando Tatis Jr. is the favorite at this point. He entered Friday batting .281 with 35 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 1.003 OPS. Tatis is tied with Trea Turner for the league lead among position players with a 4.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs. He is second behind Max Muncy with a 5.3 WAR, according to Baseball Reference.
Harper entered Friday batting .295 with 24 homers, 56 RBIs and a .986 OPS. He ranked third in the league with a 4.6 fWAR and 11th with a 3.9 bWAR.
It would take a Herculean effort from Harper in the season’s 34 games to run down Tatis. But that might be what it takes to get the Phillies into the postseason. Harper’s best 34-game stretch in his career came in 2015, when he won the NL MVP with the Nationals. He batted .412 with 16 homers, 36 RBIs and a 1.453 OPS from May 6-June 15.
Interestingly, Harper is in the midst of his best 34-game stretch with the Phillies. He is batting .327 with 10 homers, 23 RBIs and a 1.224 OPS since July 22.
Maybe he can keep it up.
“Harper is swinging really, really great,” Segura said. “He’s played huge for us. It’s unbelievable what he’s been doing every single day.”
The D-backs intentionally walked Harper to load the bases in the seventh inning to face Realmuto, whose single scored two runs to give the Phillies a 4-2 lead. But then Phillies closer Ian Kennedy allowed a game-tying, two-run homer to Kennedy-Kenrick High School graduate Christian Walker in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
It was the Phillies’ second blown save of the game, and their 27th blown save of the season, setting a new franchise record.
Enyel De Los Santos, who took Eflin’s spot on the roster, served up a two-run homer to Ketel Marte in the 10th to put the Phillies on the brink of losing for the fifth time in a little more than a week to the D-backs (44-86), who have the worst record in the National League.
Why pitch De Los Santos (5.18 ERA) in such a key spot? Girardi said right-hander Archie Bradley, who has not pitched since Tuesday, was unavailable because of shoulder soreness. Girardi also said J.D. Hammer (33 pitches on Thursday), Sam Coonrod (24 pitches on Thursday), Bailey Falter (24 pitches on Thursday) and José Alvarado (nine pitches on Thursday) were unavailable in that spot. Coonrod and Alvarado just returned from the injured list.
But Segura came through. Harper came through. Realmuto came through. The Phillies were built to win with offense. They will need those three (and others) to step up with Rhys Hoskins lost for the season.
“You never know,” Segura said about catching Atlanta. “Baseball is crazy. We might catch them. We might not. But our focus is going there and playing game by game and we’ll see down the stretch.”