Thursday night was the biggest game of the season for the Philadelphia Phillies; each game is now the biggest game of the season as they are in desperate mode, trying to track down the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, or the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres for the second wild card. That’s the drama and pressure of a playoff push at the end of the season: Every game feels like a game to be won; Every at-bat is full of pressure.
In his first plate appearance in the bottom of the first, Harper faced Chicago Cubs veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks with a runner at first and one out, the game still 0-0. After Harper swung into the air on a sinker on the first pitch, Hendricks threw six swings in a row and Harper eventually walked. Only one of the seven pitches was in the strike zone.
Harper led off the bottom of the fourth, the Cubs now leading 7-0 after exploding and scoring seven runs in the third inning. Harper maxed out the count, and Hendricks, not wanting to walk it to a big lead, threw a switch over the top of the zone that Harper hit left field at 100.7 mph and hit the top of the wall for a double. .
That connection started a big rally for the Phillies, and Harper was back at bat later in the inning, going 7-5 and runners at first and third with two outs. The Phillies wore their retro uniforms from the seventies and eighties, the blue uniforms with the maroon stripe down the side. Harper stared at Hendricks, several days of growth in his beard, color perfectly coordinated with the maroon sleeves and even a maroon pimple. He looked as resplendent as Mike Schmidt in his prime. Hendricks walked on four pitches, and JT Realmuto saluted a reliever with a game-tying single.
Harper’s fourth appearance at the plate came in the sixth, the game still tied at 7, runners at first and second with one out. There was nowhere to put it this time, unless you want to fill the bases. A rookie on the Cubs’ smoke fastball named Manuel Rodriguez was pitching. He threw a slider to one foot out, a slider for a strike, and then Harper swung to a 98 mph fastball. The next pitch was a good slider, right off the outside corner. Harper hit the pitch wonderfully and hit an RBI double down the left-field line for the Phillies to take an 8-7 lead. He stood at second base and clapped twice.