Harper's 2 HRs, 2 staredowns have Phils on verge of NLCS

Teammates in awe of Bryce: 'Any time he goes up there, it’s must-watch TV'

October 12th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- ’s teammates heard Orlando Arcia’s comments, because comments like that travel fast. Open a phone, open an app and there they were.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, atta boy, Harper.”

Arcia repeatedly laughed and mocked Harper in the Braves’ clubhouse for his baserunning decision that ended Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Monday night at Truist Park. Arcia’s jeering was reported by FOX Sports and The Washington Post. An audio recording from the clubhouse confirmed Arcia’s comments. So, Harper’s teammates asked him a simple question before a 10-2 victory over Atlanta in Game 3 on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

“They looked at me and they were like, ‘What are you going to do?’” Harper said.

Something memorable.

Something historic.

Something only Hall of Famers seem to do.

Harper crushed a three-run home run to right field in the third inning and a solo home run to center field in the fifth, helping the Phillies take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Philadelphia can clinch a second consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series with a Game 4 victory on Thursday night. In the current 2-2-1 Division Series format, teams ahead 2-1 and playing Game 4 at home have advanced 23 of 29 times (79 percent).

“I mean, any time anybody says something, right?” Harper said about his motivation from Arcia’s comments. “I mean, that's what it's all about.”

Teammates call Harper “the Showman” because he comes up big in the game’s biggest moments. He came up big again Wednesday.

“He’s one of the best in the world for a reason,” Kyle Schwarber said.

“It’s Bryce Harper,” Bryson Stott said. “Any time he goes up there, it’s must-watch TV.”

"I think we were all just on the edge of our seats," Matt Strahm said. "Like, it’s going to happen. It was almost like we already manifested it and knew what it was going to be. He just answered the call. That’s what great players do."

“Maybe he’s not human,” Garrett Stubbs said.

Harper’s homers were only his first act on Wednesday. His trots around the bases were his second.

He crushed a 2-1 slider from Bryce Elder in the third inning with an exit velocity of 109.5 mph, sending the pitch into the second deck in right field. Harper stood and admired his handiwork from the batter’s box before he ran the bases. He offered a quick glance toward second base before he slapped hands with Phillies first-base coach Paco Figueroa. Harper pointed toward the Phils’ bullpen as he approached second.

Harper then turned his head and gave a long look to Arcia, who stood near second.

“I stared right at him,” Harper said.

“He can look wherever he wants,” Arcia said. “I can’t control where he looks.”

Not everybody in the dugout and bullpen noticed Harper’s stare, but many did.

“I might have watched it once or twice on the iPad,” Strahm said.

Harper stared down Arcia again after smoking a 1-1 sweeper from Brad Hand in the fifth at an exit velocity of 109.5 mph, sending the pitch into the bushes in center field.

“He's been an MVP from when he was, what, 21?” Trea Turner said. “He was made for these moments.”

Harper’s teammates talked about Arcia’s comments in the clubhouse before Game 3. They said they weren’t mad about it. They were just … confused.

“It was more like, surprise,” Strahm said. “Like, ‘Really? Really? Oh, wow. He said that.’ The cheesy saying, ‘Don’t wake a sleeping giant.’ I think Harper kind of put a stamp on that. … I learned early, don’t talk [smack]. Just play the game.”

“Why would he say that?” Stubbs said.

"He wasn’t supposed to hear," Arcia said.

Harper, whose nine postseason homers rank third in franchise history behind Jayson Werth (11) and Chase Utley (10), hit two of the Phillies’ postseason franchise-record six home runs in Game 3. Nick Castellanos also hit two. Both wore Deion Sanders “Coach Prime” swag to the ballpark. Both insisted it was a coincidence. But before the Colorado football team played Colorado State this season, Colorado State coach Jay Norvell took a shot at Sanders, who responded with a memorable quote.

“They done messed around and made it personal,” Sanders said.

Arcia made it personal.

Don’t make things personal with Harper.

“He's a Hall of Famer,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s one of those guys that loves that stage. He’s a special player. You put him in the spotlight, and he's going to shine.”

Harper has a 1.697 OPS in seven career postseason games against the Braves. It is the second-best mark by any player against any single team in postseason history (minimum 25 plate appearances). Only Barry Bonds’ performance against the Angels in the 2002 World Series was better -- he had a 1.994 OPS against Anaheim.

Harper explained how he has thrived in moments like this.

“When I was 10 years old, 11 years old, I played in so many big tournaments,” he said. “You guys couldn't imagine the pressure of the situations, or going to [junior college] early and having everybody in the world relying on you to be the No. 1 pick. That was hard. You know, 17 years old, 16 years old, trying to be the No. 1 pick, knowing that if you're not, you're a failure. That’s pressure, you know? Trying to make all the money you can to get your family out of an area or set them up for life, that's pressure. This is all cake, man. This is so much fun.

“This is what it's all about, just coming in here and playing the game that I love. And man, it's not pressure anymore when you're just playing and having fun. Those moments are -- all the pressure is gone.”

The pressure might be gone, but Harper's goal since joining the Phillies in 2019 remains: win a World Series. He hopes they take that next step on Thursday.

“I'm so thankful that I'm able to play this game,” he said. “I'm so thankful to be able to have these moments and these opportunities. There’s nothing like it.”