Harper’s HR powers Phillies past Padres, into World Series

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper broke up the Phillies postseason party on the mound and directed his team to where the true revelry was about to begin for the National League champs.

“C’mon, let’s go inside! Let’s go!” he ordered.

With that, Harper walked toward the dugout and raised his arms in jubilation to the soundtrack of Phillies fans screaming “MV3! MV3! ” The Phillies scrambled inside for the Broad Street Bubbly that awaited in the clubhouse.

Harper made the scene possible because he rose to the moment Philly demanded of him from the time he signed the richest free-agent deal in baseball history. Harper has made the monumental feat of hitting a baseball look so easy in the postseason and with the NL pennant at stake, he delivered with the defining moment of his four-year Philadelphia career.

Harper slugged his fifth homer of the postseason, a two-run blast in the eighth inning that turned Citizens Bank Park into a madhouse, and the $330 million slugger powered the Phillies past the San Diego Padres 4-3 on Sunday and into the World Series for the first the time since 2009.

One swing. One opposite-field shot. One game-winning home run that about seemed destined from the moment he came to the plate in the eighth inning with the Phillies and their fans beckoning Bryce to deliver in the clutch just one more time.

“I hit the ball, and I just looked at my dugout and kind of it’s for all of them,” Harper said. “It’s for this whole team. It’s for this whole organization.”

Rhys Hoskins also hit a two-run homer in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series to spark Philadelphia’s improbable run to the pennant and a shot at its first World Series championship since 2008.

Harper, Hoskins & Crew are coming for a most improbable World Series championship.

Houston held a 3-0 lead over the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Game 4 is Sunday night in New York. The World Series will begin Friday night at the home of the AL champion.

Harper was named NLCS MVP and he as parked the trophy on a dais, he made it clear the personal awards meant nothing to him without a ring.

“I don’t really care about this but MLB is making me do it,” Harper said.

Philadelphia trailed 3-2 when J.T. Realmuto began the eighth with a single off reliever Robert Suarez. Harper then lined a 2-2, 98 mph sinker the opposite way, into the left-field seats as another sellout crowd of 45,485 shook the stadium.

Harper hoped the homer set the stage for other highlights on deck in the next couple of weeks.

“We’ve got four more,” the two-time NL MVP told the fans during an on-field celebration, and they roared again.

The lefty-swinging Harper connected off a righty – the Padres had left-handed closer Josh Hader warming in the bullpen, but didn’t bring him in.

“It’s a thought at this point, but that wasn’t what we were thinking,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “We were trying to get to four-out position for Hader, and we had a lot of confidence in Suarez.”

The Phillies felt the same way about Harper.

“Pure chaos, right? I don’t think anybody was surprised,” Hoskins said. “This guy has a knack for coming up in the biggest moments. It’s just what he’s done his whole career, and we’ve seen it plenty of times.”

Remember, too: When Harper’s thumb was broken by a pitch from San Diego’s Blake Snell in late June, there were some concerns that he might not return this season.

Instead, the star who signed a 13-year contract to play in Philadelphia delivered – in this season, in this game.

Even after Harper’s homer put them ahead, it wasn’t an easy ending for the Phillies.

Reliever David Robertson was pulled after a pair of one-out walks in the ninth. Ranger Suarez made his first relief appearance of the season and retired Trent Grisham on a bunt and got Austin Nola – brother of Phils ace Aaron Nola – on a routine fly to finish it for a huge save.

The Phillie Phanatic swayed a National League champions flag as the postseason banger “Dancing On My Own” blared throughout the stadium. Alec Bohm and Nick Castellanos stripped off their shirts and danced in the clubhouse. Cigars were let. Cheap beer was sprayed. The alcohol puddles on the carpet went deeper than the ones caused by the rain in a sloppy, gusty Game 5.

Philly, get ready.

This sixth-seeded Phillies – yes, that is a thing this season – feel they’re just getting started.

Harper, who turned 30 last week, is batting 439 (18 for 41) with six doubles, five homers, 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored over 11 postseason games. He has hit in 10 straight and has reached base in 11 straight.

And the feared designated hitter can keep those streaks alive when he plays in his first World Series.

“To a certain degree, it’s getting overlooked because of who he is and the star that he is,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He’s a guy that’s a big star that’s delivered. Can’t say enough about that.”

Philadelphia finished third in the NL East at 87-75, a full 14 games behind the 101-win Braves this season, and were the last club in the majors to make the 12-team playoff field. After a 2-0 sweep of NL Central champion St. Louis in MLB’s newly created wild-card round, the Phillies needed only four games to knock out Atlanta, the defending World Series champs.

Now they’ll try to become the first team that finished in third place to win a World Series.

The Padres took a 3-2 lead in a sloppy seventh inning as rain pounded Citizens Bank Park and turned portions of the infield, notably around third base, into a mud pit.

But it was Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez’s slippery grip that almost cost the Phillies.

Starter Zack Wheeler was fantastic again and struck out eight over six innings. He was lifted with a 2-1 lead after Jake Cronenworth‘s leadoff single in the seventh.

Dominguez couldn’t find his feel with the ball as the rain picked up, puddles formed near third base and the infield dirt turned to mush. He threw one wild pitch and Josh Bell lined a tying RBI double to right that made it 2-1.

Dominguz then threw two more wild pitches that allowed pinch-runner Jose Azocar to scamper home for the 3-2 lead. The righty reliever threw only three wild pitches in 51 innings all season — then uncorked three in the seventh.

Things got tense in Philly.

But they always had Harper in their back pocket like a lucky charm.

“Harper had a huge moment there,” Padres slugger Manny Machado said. “You just have to tip your hat.”

Hoskins, Harper, Wheeler have left a trail of indelible moment at Citizens Bank as they improved to 5-0 at home, where they will play World Series Games 3, 4 and 5.

Game 5 of the NLCS was no exception.

The Phillies caught a break in the third when NL home run champion Kyle Schwarber was called out on a two-out stolen-base attempt. The call was overturned on replay, and the Phillies had new life.

Hoskins, who came hitting a quite memorable .171, smashed one into the left field seats off starter Yu Darvish as the crowd went wild. He hopped down the line as he mouthed some words to his teammates in the dugout and twirled his bat — not unlike the steadily-spinning rally towels — as he gave them a 2-0 lead.

Wheeler gave up Soto’s solo homer in the inning that made it 2-1. Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove snapped a Polaroid picture of Soto in the dugout.

Try as they might, the Padres weren’t ready for their close up.

The Phillies were picture perfect. Second baseman Jean Segura cleared a path on the infield as the rest of the Phillies sat near the mound, took off on a running start and slid head first into the team photo.

Then it was time to party.

Harper demanded it.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.