'Iconic,' 'euphoric': Harper takes London by storm in opener

June 8th, 2024

LONDON -- had been thinking about a memorable way to celebrate a home run in London.

He thought big. He thought football.

So moments after Harper crushed a game-tying solo home run to right field in the fourth inning of Saturday’s 7-2 victory over the Mets in the London Series at London Stadium, he slid on his knees and raised his arms into the air, just in front of the Phillies’ dugout. He looked like one of the Premier League superstars who have celebrated goals here in the past.

“It was iconic,” Phillies left-hander Ranger Suárez said through an interpreter.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Edmundo Sosa said. “I got to live it. I got to live it live and in 3D because I was watching everything he was doing, and when he celebrated like a soccer player, it was euphoric. We were infected by it.”

“How long have you been planning that, buddy?” Nick Castellanos said. “He’s a showman. It doesn’t surprise me. Give the European fans something.”

Harper said he was in the training room Saturday morning when he first mentioned the idea of a football (aka soccer) celebration if he homered. He said he didn’t tell any of his teammates because he wanted them to be surprised.

Oh, they were surprised.

It was just one of many fun moments for the Phillies in what has been a memorable few days in London.

“I love the moment, I love the opportunity,” Harper said. “I was able to do it. I was just wondering if I would actually do it when I crossed home plate because I had been talking about it. I think my only fear was if I got caught on the turf with my knees. But it didn’t happen.”

Phillies manager Rob Thomson had the same fears. Thomson stood there stone-faced as Harper celebrated like a football star.

“He’s a showman,” he said.

Harper’s homer ignited a six-run rally in the fourth. Alec Bohm singled and Bryson Stott walked with one out. Sosa’s single scored Bohm to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Whit Merrifield hit a three-run home run to left to give Philadelphia a 5-1 lead.

“I saw the blood come back into his face when he hit the home run,” Thomson said.

Merrifield entered the game batting .171 with two homers, four RBIs and a .517 OPS.

He needed this.

“It felt good to drive some runs in,” Merrifield said. “I feel like I’ve left the whole Premier League on base the past couple months. I finally made a good swing on a good pitch and did something good for the team. It’s what I’m here to do. I haven’t done a great job of that, but we’re the best team in baseball on a historic run. Hopefully, I can gain some momentum from that. There’s a long season left. Really, the season starts in October. That’s what the end goal is.”

Suárez allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings to become the first pitcher in the Majors to reach 10 wins. Orion Kerkering, Seranthony Domínguez and José Ruiz pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief.

Castellanos crushed a solo homer over the left-field foul pole in the eighth. He is batting .323 (10-for-31) with three homers, seven RBIs and a 1.106 OPS in his past eight games. The ball left his bat at 113.1 mph, his fastest exit velocity on any batted ball since Statcast started tracking in 2015.

“To be in London, in Europe, playing in a European soccer stadium, 50,000-plus people, it feeling like a home game, there’s not very many things that weren’t fun about today,” Castellanos said.

Perhaps the Phillies converted a few of the neutral observers, too.

Harper is a player who can do that.

“He’s a superstar,” Thomson said. “People come to watch him play and watch him perform. And he understands that. He’s a perfectionist. I think Bryce feels every time he goes to the plate, he should get a base hit, and if he doesn’t it upsets him. And that’s kind of what makes him great.”

Saturday was the 15-year anniversary of Harper appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old phenom.

“What a long time ago that was,” Harper said.

Who knew 15 years later he would be homering in London and celebrating like he just scored a goal in the World Cup?

“Just being able to have the moments, I think we all enjoy doing those types of things,” Harper said.