September 28, 2023

Harper ends career HR drought as Phillies win doubleheader

Harper ends career HR drought when Phillies sweep doubleheader originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The long national nightmare is over. Bryce Harper is off the hook.

Harper put the Phillies on the board with a surefire shot past center field in the fourth inning Saturday night, his first home run since May 25, ending a career-long 166-at bat drought.

It started a chart run for the Phillies, who scored nine runs on eleven hits from the fourth through seventh inning.

A simple flick of the wrist from Kyle Schwarber in the fifth inning resulted in a three-run homer, his second in Saturday’s doubleheader sweep. The Phillies defeated the Padres in the nightcap 9-4, winning both games for the third time in their last 32 doubleheaders.

The Phils wreaked havoc against every Padres pitcher they faced in the series, except top three starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell and closer Josh Hader.

Three major bats may finally be heating up. Harper had the pinch-hit, tying single in the eighth inning of Game 1, and Schwarber and Trea Turner reached base in five of 10 at bats.

Then Harper and Schwarber went deep in Game 2, while Turner himself missed a homer by inches by doubling, singled, and walked. Harper reached base four times with a homer, double, two walks and a buy from third base.

Turner also made a fine defensive play in the gap between short and third to rob Xander Bogaerts of a single.

After the game, Harper downplayed the end of his nearly two-month stint without a longball.

“Everyone keeps talking about it, but it is what it is,” he said. “For me personally, keep hitting the baseball hard. I’m not trying to hit homers, if you’re trying to hit homers it’s no good. I had a really good swing on a ball tonight and was able to get it out there. Keep swinging and keep doing my thing.”

The game-deciding rally in the fifth inning for the Phillies began with a bunt-single by catcher Garrett Stubbs, his sixth already this season. Johan Rojas followed with his first major league-hit, a broken bat single to center. Schwarber homered one pitch later on an 86 mph substitution by Ryan Weathers who was up and over the plate.

The Phils added two more in the sixth on a Rojas bunt single and Turner single to right. Rojas bled in another run in the eighth inning for a 3-hit game. He made a sensational defensive play in his big league-debut in the afternoon.

“He had a great year in the minor leagues this year,” Harper said of the Phils’ new center fielder. “Excited to see him run, excited to see him play. I know they’re going to love him. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. We watched it in spring training, so we know how dynamic a player he is could be.”

Taijuan Walker started and threw five innings, allowing two runs. He threw 29 pitches in the first inning, but minimized the damage by allowing one run on a groundout. He suffered a defensive error and questionable official score in the fifth when Rougned Odor shorted a relatively routine ground ball, forcing Edmundo Sosa to run a few paces to the left to corral. Sosa got the ball with gloves but missed it, Odor rushed into second place and was credited with a cool double. He scored on a single by Trent Grisham.

Walker worked and threw 96 pitches, but did enough to win again. He is 11-3 on the season with a 4.00 ERA. The Phillies have won each of his last seven starts and 14 of the 19 games he pitched.

Sosa was hit on the hand by a pitch in the seventh inning and was grounded for several minutes. He stayed in to run, then got a cramp running from second to third and got pulled. It was a tough 10 minutes for him, but manager Rob Thomson said after the match that Sosa’s hand was good.

The doubleheader sweep put the Phillies up 50-42 en route to Sunday’s series final, which may or may not be played as scheduled due to a high chance of rain all morning and early afternoon. Both the Phils and the Padres are off on Monday, which is a logical catch-up date in case of a postponement.

Zack Wheeler starts for the Phils against right-hander Seth Lugo, a familiar foe from his seven seasons with the Mets.

“Really hot today, really hard for either side to stay on top or get going, but we did it,” said Harper. “Fought to the end, got Game 1, then jumped on it in Game 2.”

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