PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper might want to let his bat do his talking for him over the next two weeks.
The Phillies' superstar was ejected in the fourth inning of Sunday’s crucial game against the Red Sox, relegated to the clubhouse to watch his teammates drop a 6-3 decision to Boston at Citizen's Bank Park.
The loss concluded a disappointing 2-4 homestand, leaving the Phillies facing an uphill climb -- 4 1/2 games with 14 to play, to be exact -- in their chase for a National League Wild Card spot.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Harper said.
Harper and manager Gabe Kapler were tossed by home-plate umpire Gabe Morales for arguing balls and strikes after Harper was rung up for the second time in the game.
It was one of 10 strikeouts by the Phillies’ hitters, giving them 25 in the two-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.
Jason Vargas was tagged for five runs (four earned) over three innings, the big hit coming from Christian Vazquez, whose third-inning grand slam gave the Red Sox a lead they would never relinquish. Vazquez added a second homer in the sixth against Mike Morin, but the slam against Vargas was the difference-maker.
“Going through that lineup two times is difficult enough; going through it three times is an enormous challenge,” Kapler said. “It just didn’t look like Varg had his best stuff to do that today.”
Whether it was the frustration about the deficit or simply the belief that he had been wronged, Harper’s day ended in the fourth after Morales punched him out on a 90.9 mph Rick Porcello two-seamer that looked to be inside.
Only the ejection didn’t happen in the heat of the moment. It took a video replay for Harper to really get fired up.
“I disagreed with that call, kind of looked back at him and said, ‘Hey, that’s not a strike,’” Harper said. “He kind of looked at me like, ‘Yeah, all right, stupid.’ Just that look. I went back and thought, ‘Maybe he’s right.’”
Harper raced back to the video room to take another look, but the video only reinforced his belief that Morales had blown the call. Harper returned to the dugout during Rhys Hoskins’ at-bat, during which he barked toward the plate, “Not even (expletive) close,” prompting Morales to eject him immediately.
“I came back up and just said, ‘It’s not close,’” Harper said. “Then he tossed me. Usually if I say, ‘It’s not close’ I usually don’t get tossed right away and I kind of shut up. I say my piece, I shut up and I stay in the game.
“You never want to get thrown out. After saying that, I didn’t think I was going to get tossed. I just didn’t, plain and simple. If you keep talking, keep saying stuff, you walk the edge. Some umpires don’t take it, and he wasn’t going to take it today.”
Morales declined to comment to a pool reporter after the game.
“Everybody can look at the pitch and see why Bryce was upset and why I was upset on his behalf,” Kapler said. “It was an enormous game with a lot of implications. I thought Bryce was right about the pitch. But just as importantly, I thought in a game of this mag, there could have been a little bit of a longer leash to allow him to stay in this game and let it play out on the field.”
Harper was calm and measured with his words after the game, and while he understands that umpires can miss a pitch the same way he can, the former National League Most Valuable Player isn’t willing to accept such mistakes at this time of the season.
“Especially in these games right now, you have to be better back there,” Harper said. “You’ve got to be better. It’s not like they’re not going to make mistakes; I miss heaters down the middle, too. It’s part of it. Just in these games right now, you have to be better.”
The lost weekend will give the Phillies plenty to think about during Monday’s off-day, the final break they’ll get before the end of the season. On Tuesday, Kapler’s club begins a season-defining, 11-game road trip that takes them through Atlanta and Cleveland for three games apiece, followed by a four-day, five-game series in Washington.
“From here on out, it’s like Game 7 of a playoff series every time we play a baseball game,” Kapler said. “Tough or not, challenge or not, it’s our job. It’s the only choice we have. We’re going to do this as a team. We have no choice but to continue to fight. Sometimes you see the best come out in people when their backs are against the wall. Ours are against the wall, and my expectation is that you’ll see our best.”