'Big guy' Harper beats Hader, helps Phils win in 12

July 17th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Nine months later, Josh Hader finally faced in the big spot.

Nine months later, the Phillies still won.

Harper hit a two-out single to center field off Hader in the 10th inning to bring home the tying run in Sunday’s 7-6 victory over the Padres in 12 innings at Citizens Bank Park. Kyle Schwarber’s one-out, walk-off sacrifice fly in the 12th won it. In between, the Phillies got more fantastic pitching from a bullpen that has been baseball’s best since mid-April.

“Everybody knows we fight until the end,” Harper said. “They talk about us being the Fightins’, right?”

The Phillies won three out of four games in the NLCS rematch to move nine games over .500, tied for their best mark this season. They are a half-game behind the D-backs for the third NL Wild Card, and just one game behind the Giants and Marlins, who hold the first two spots.

Hader infamously watched Harper’s go-ahead, two-run home run against Robert Suárez in the eighth inning in Game 5 of the NLCS from the visitors’ bullpen. The homer as good as clinched the pennant for the Phillies, sending the Phillies to the World Series. Everybody wonders what might have happened had Hader faced Harper that night. Harper and Hader had faced each other only once in their careers: July 26, 2017, when Harper played for the Nationals and Hader pitched for the Brewers.

Harper struck out swinging, then he got ejected.

Harper swung and missed a first-pitch slider on Sunday, before he got a pitch over the plate and barreled it. He sent the pitch to center field to score Johan Rojas.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Harper said. “He’s one of the best, if not the best closer in the game. I would say he’s been the best closer in the game the past six, seven years, because of his consistency, right? [I] took a chance on the first swing, like I do a lot. Just tried to hone it in and have a good at-bat and get something over the plate, and I was able to do that. You guys know, I love those situations, and I love being down, two outs, things like that.”

“That’s what you expect out of Harp,” Zack Wheeler said, who started and went seven innings, picking up seven strikeouts. “He’s the guy for that moment. He stepped up. That’s what you expect out of your big guy, and that’s why we love him.”

Sunday’s victory followed a familiar script: as with each of the Phillies’ victories this weekend, they trailed in the fifth inning. Bryson Stott jump-started the offense with a solo homer in the fifth to cut San Diego’s lead to 3-1. Schwarber’s third homer in three games cut the lead to 3-2 in the sixth. The Phillies tacked on three more runs in the inning to take a 5-3 lead.

But for the first time since June 14, the Phillies’ bullpen blew a save, when Gregory Soto allowed two runs in the eighth. The Padres scored a run in the top of the 10th, but Harper’s hit tied it.

The Phillies asked right-hander to pitch a scoreless 11th. Hoffman signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies the day after Opening Day. Nobody outside the organization thought much about it, but Hoffman has been a tremendous find. He is 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA and one save in 21 appearances. He is a big reason why the Phillies’ bullpen has a 3.17 ERA from April 16 through Sunday, which is the best mark in baseball, nearly a quarter of a run better than the Giants.

Hoffman not only pitched a scoreless 11th; he also pitched a scoreless 12th. It is an increasingly rare thing to do in today’s game, with automatic runners starting each half-inning after the ninth on second base. Only seven pitchers this season have put together scoreless outings of at least two innings in extras.

Hoffman and teammate Matt Strahm are two of them.

“[Manager Rob Thomson] said, ‘Are you good for another one?’” Hoffman said. “I said, ‘We’re not going to need it.’ We ended up needing it, so I was locked in.”

“We talk about it in the dugout all the time,” Wheeler said. “When somebody is on second base with no outs, it’s really hard not to let them score. You have to make your pitches and be on your game, and he was on it for two innings there. He’s been great for us.”

The Phillies have blown nine saves this season, but they have not lost a game in which they have blown one since May 3.

That’s six straight victories after blowing a save.

That’s resilience.

“That’s who they are,” Thomson said. “They just keep battling and they keep fighting. They never give up. You make your own breaks. My father always used to say that. They make their own breaks, because they just keep fighting.”