Bryce Harper’s return to Nationals Park had it all

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Tuesday evening marked the much-anticipated return of Bryce Harper to Nationals Park. Harper was drafted by the Nationals in 2010 and spent seven seasons in the majors with them from 2012-18. He famously won the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award, the 2015 NL Most Valuable Player Award, and the 2018 Home Run Derby. He put up historic numbers for a player his age and helped the Nationals reach the postseason four times, though they never advanced out of the NLDS. (Not his fault, of course.)

Last month, ending months of intrigue, Harper finally settled on a suitor, agreeing to a historic 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. It was recently revealed that Nationals ownership made a $300 million offer. That offer, of course, was not $330 and included deferrals, lowering the present-day value. Nevertheless, Nationals fans felt spurned by Harper.

PhillyVoice curated some of the creative ways Nationals fans altered their Harper jerseys ahead of Tuesday’s contest:

In case the photos aren’t working for you, the jersey alterations read:

  • Somebody that I used to know
  • That’s a clown contract bro
  • Money-seeking FRAUD
  • B. Arnold
  • (A duct-tape X across Harper’s name and number)
  • (Scherzer’s name and number taped over Harper’s)
  • Drama Q

A group of Nationals fans in the front row in right field wore white t-shirts, each wearing a letter spelling out “TRAITOR.” Another fan had a sign that read, “Pardon Papelbon.”

Even D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser got in on the fun, tweeting a picture of Harper superimposed onto a picture of Benedict Arnold. She deleted the tweet not long thereafter.

Harper came to the plate in the first inning after back-to-back singles from Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura to start the game against Max Scherzer. As Harper was announced, Nationals fans booed him lustily. Scherzer got the best of Harper this time, getting him to swing over a change-up for strike three and the first out of the inning. Nationals Park erupted in cheers.

In the third inning, Harper was again booed lustily as he came to the plate. Scherzer expertly placed a cutter on the edge of the plate, getting Harper to swing and miss for strike three. Again, the fans were ecstatic with the result.

It seemed like the hate only made Harper stronger. In the fifth, Harper did his best to start a rally, swatting a Scherzer curve into right field for a double, but Segura was unable to score all the way from first base. Harper and his teammates were amped up about his success:

Harper put the cherry on top of a four-run sixth inning outburst for the Phillies, lacing an RBI double to the opposite field off of Matt Grace in the sixth inning. He was very happy.

A large contingent of Phillies fans, having made the trek down I-95, drowned out Nationals fans’ boos by chanting, “We got Bryce!”

Harper absolutely obliterated a Jeremy Hellickson fastball 458 feet for a two-run home run in the top of the eighth inning, putting the final nail in the coffin Tuesday night against his old squad. Harper had a bat flip for the ages:

The Phillies won 8-2.

Also fun were the light-hearted jabs taken by the Nationals’ and Phillies’ official Twitter accounts.

Rationally speaking, it doesn’t make much sense to hate on a guy for making financial and life decisions in the best interest of himself and his family. But fandom is, definitionally, not rational. Cheering for your guys and booing the other guys is fun and makes the game more interesting. The rivalry brewing between the Phillies and Nationals is already great and figures to get even better throughout the year. Hopefully that’s the case for years to come.

Zack Wheeler will miss at least two starts when his wife gives birth

Zack Wheeler miss starts
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Per The Athletic’s Matt Gelb, Phillies starter Zack Wheeler will miss at least two starts when his wife goes into labor and gives birth to their first child, expected to be later this month. Wheeler, in fact, is not sure if he will return to play at all once their child is born.

Wheeler said, “We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I’m happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby’s born. I always think about what’s going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I’m going to continue to keep asking myself that every day.”

Wheeler, 30, inked a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies in December. He is slated for the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola. Last season, with the Mets, Wheeler posted a 3.96 ERA with 195 strikeouts and 50 walks over 195 1/3 innings.

The No. 5 spot in the Phillies’ rotation is currently up for grabs between Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ranger Suárez, and prospect Spencer Howard. One of the remaining three could fill in for Wheeler when he needs time off, temporarily or otherwise.