The Philadelphia Phillies took care of business Saturday night, going into Truist Park and taking Game 1 of their National League Division Series against the NL's best team, the 104-win Atlanta Braves. One familiar face led the charge for the ballclub — first baseman Bryce Harper.
In a close 3-0 game, Harper was involved in all three of the Phillies' runs. In the top of the fourth inning, Harper walked and then got to second base on a throwing error by Atlanta's starting pitcher, Spencer Strider. Bryson Stott came through with a two-strike RBI knock, scoring Harper easily.
In the sixth inning, facing Atlanta's ace for the third time in the game, he deposited a slider into the seats in right field for a 2-0 lead.
As Todd Zolecki of MLB.com noted, Harper's home run was hit at a speed of 115.3 mph off the bat, 3.5 mph faster than any long ball Strider had given up in his career:
Sarah Langs noted it was Harper's fifth-hardest-hit homer of his career since Statcast was created in 2015.
After the feud between Atlanta mascot Blooper and Philly fans on X leading into the NLDS, which included swipes at the beloved Phillie Phanatic, most fans weren't shocked that Harper, a known Phanatic fan, would drill a home run to defend his buddy's honor:
While Harper didn't score in his final at-bat of the evening, he walked after shortstop Trea Turner stole second and third, and then he himself stole second base. A few batters later, with the bases loaded, the Phillies scored on a catcher's inference call, forcing in a run to move the score to 3-0.
In Game 3 of the NLDS last season, Atlanta's ace faced the Phillies and gave up five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. Coming into this game, though, Strider was 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA against the Phillies in 2023. This most recent home run by Harper looked familiar too:
The two-time NL MVP showing up in big games is no surprise to manager Rob Thomson, who knows he doesn't back down in October:
Thomson has a reason to be confident in his star player. No Philly fan will forget the postseason Harper had last year.
Across 17 games, he slashed .349/.414/.746 with 22 hits, six home runs, 13 RBI and 12 runs. In 2022, Harper had a home run in each of the four playoff series, including a homer in the clinching game of the Wild Card Series, the NLDS and the NL Championship Series.
In the 2022 NLDS, also against Atlanta, Harper hit .500/.529/1.063 with two home runs and five RBI in four games. When it came time for the NLCS and a chance to propel the team to the World Series, Harper brought his bat to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning with a chance to put his team in the lead in Game 5. The rest is history.
If Harper stays hot, could we see a repeat of Bedlam at the Bank?
Overall in Game 1, Harper finished 2-for-2 with two walks to go along with the home run and stolen base.
Harper is doing Harper things — showing up when the lights are the brightest and his team needs him the most. Opposing teams would be foolish not to take notice and try to game-plan around the clubhouse leader, who said on the NBC Sports Philadelphia postgame show that one of the perks of hitting a home run is getting back to his friends in the dugout quicker. Good luck planning around that thinking.
And another problem there? Philadelphia has eight other players in the lineup besides Harper who can make teams pay, but that's for them to figure out and the Phillies to take advantage of.