PHILADELPHIA -- Prior to Monday's series opener against the Pirates, Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper said the cooler temperature at Citizens Bank Park gave everything a postseason feel.
As it turns out, the weather wasn't the only thing that had an October tint in Philadelphia's dramatic 6-5 walk-off victory in 11 innings. Sean Rodriguez connected for his fourth career walk-off home run to pull the Phillies to within one game of the idle Cubs for the final National League Wild Card spot.
"I think every game is critically important right now," manager Gabe Kapler said. "That felt like a playoff game. I think our players treated it like a playoff game. They gave everything they had, and that’s going to be the case every night going forward."
Harper hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to trigger a three-run rally that gave the Phils a short-lived 5-4 lead. Bucs first baseman Josh Bell immediately answered with a game-tying solo homer in the ninth before Rodriguez came through with his walk-off shot against his former club in the 11th.
It was the scoreless action that unfolded between the homers from Bell and Rodriguez, however, that made Monday's tilt feel like something more than a regular-season game in late August.
Following Bell's game-tying homer, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but they came up empty after Rhys Hoskins popped out along the first-base line and Harper struck out swinging. Hoskins, who went 0-for-5 and is hitting .091 (6-for-66) over his last 20 games, heard a chorus of boos from the hometown fans following his at-bat.
“We won the game. I couldn’t care less about that," Hoskins said of the fan reaction. "We won the game.”
Rodriguez had been going through some struggles of his own. He was just 1-for-20 with 11 strikeouts in August when he stepped to the plate in the 11th inning. Serving primarily as a pinch-hitter, Rodriguez pointed out that those at-bats were spread out over 17 games and 26 days -- and typically against the opponent's top relievers.
"I feel like that’s the misconception a lot of people make -- you can’t struggle, you can’t be that bad," Rodriguez said. "Every hitter does it. Only difference is, when someone’s playing every day, there’s a chance they’re going to sneak a hit in here and there. When you’re facing a team’s best pitcher -- or best three to four pitchers -- it doesn’t matter who he is. When you’re seeing guys like that on a daily basis, it makes it tough."
Like Hoskins, Rodriguez has heard the boos, including after he swung and missed at the two pitches immediately preceding his walk-off blast. Like Hoskins, Rodriguez simply pointed to the final score.
“It does feel good regardless, being 1-for-20, 0-for-20, 15-for-20 -- a ‘W’ is a ‘W,’” Rodriguez said.
Those wins in the midst of Philadelphia's postseason push are the main reason Rodriguez is still wearing a Phils uniform.
“I want to win. That’s why I’m still playing, that’s why I’m here," Rodriguez said. "I told that to [general manager Matt] Klentak coming out of Spring Training when he said, ‘Hey, you’ve got an out [clause] in your contract.’ I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere. I want to win, and you guys clearly want to do that here. I’m all in.’”
That desire was obvious to Rodriguez, in part, because of the move to sign Harper. As it stands, Rodriguez and Harper are the only position players on the Phillies' active roster with any postseason experience.
Harper went to the postseason four times with the Nationals, while Rodriguez made three trips with the Rays and another with the Pirates. Neither player, however, has advanced beyond the Division Series.
Regardless of what it takes to get there, Harper is hoping Monday's walk-off thriller -- on a night when the temperature dropped into the 60s in South Philadelphia -- is a sign of things to come.
"That’s a big win for us tonight," Harper said. "If we can keep doing that, and getting used to winning like that each night, we’ll be right where we want to be and playing in that good October weather."