If the Philadelphia Phillies allowed themselves to dream about it by signing Bryce Harper meant returning to the World Series. On Sunday, the dream came true when Harper hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning of a rain-soaked NLCS Game 5 to topple the San Diego Padres4-3, and land a trip to the Fall Classic.
Signed for 13 years and $330 million before 2019, Harper’s tenure in Philadelphia had, until June, been a frustrating combination of individual excellence and collective mediocrity. The team took off after firing manager Joe Girardi and replacing him with bench coach Rob Thomson. Despite being the third-best team in the NL East, they came through in the playoffs over the summer and held on to sixth and last place in an expanded post-season field in September.
Now, playing their own distinct brand of sometimes chaotic baseballthey won the NL pennant and the franchise’s top spot in the World Series since 2009.
Game 5 was influenced by wet conditions throughout. Having already condensed the playoff schedule after the lockout, MLB opted to play the game in the rain in Philadelphia. There was only one day off built into the NLCS and ALCS schedules — after Game 2 — instead of the usual two.
In the top of the seventh, a downpour seemed to reverse the teams’ fortunes when the Padres gave the go-ahead for a wild pitching streak by the Phillies reliever. Seranthony Dominguez.
But Harper answered the next inning, blasting his memorable home run against San Diego setup man Robert Suarez. That followed a Game 4 where Harper capped a boisterous Phillies comeback with an RBI brace.
Two-time NL MVP Harper writes an October caption. Despite strong teams, his time on the Nationals produced zero playoff wins. Now he has three. Batting over .400 in the playoffs so far, Harper is scorching ahead of the first World Series appearance of a career that has been under the microscope since Sports Illustrated dubbed him “the chosen one” at age 16.
He seems to be exactly that for a Philadelphia fan base that suffered from disappointment at the end of the era with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and then a long and winding rebuild.
A win for the Padres would have meant returning the series to San Diego for Game 6 and potentially Game 7. Instead, Philadelphia celebrates a pennant Sunday night and prepares for a matchup with either the Astros Where Yankees. Houston, up 3-0 in the ALCS, could seal this game as early as Sunday night in the Bronx.
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