For sure, all the Bryce Harper bashers are in hiding today.
It wasn’t long ago that he was ridiculed and downplayed after he bolted from the Washington Nationals as a free agent, only to see his former team win the World Series the next season without him.
The cry was: “Who needs Harper?” “Good riddance” was thrown around a lot when talking about the slugger.
Man, those Negative Nellies could have not been more wrong.
He was a star from Day 1, when we saw all the videos of him launching monster home runs on YouTube.
He was supposed to be the next face of MLB. Yes, must-see TV.
And while we’ve seen Harper do incredible feats in his career already, Sunday was what we’ve all been waiting for. Harper’s two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning gave his Phillies the lead en route to a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres in Game 5 in Philly.
Harper’s blast sent the Phillies — who were the National League’s lowest-seeded team in the postseason — to the World Series for the first time since 2009. The city is electric and buzzing.
No one expected the Phils to get here. After all, the season started so poorly that manager Joe Girardi was canned after a 22-29 start.
Almost never does a team make such a dramatic move during the season and reach the postseason. In fact, the Phillies became just the seventh team to do so. Now, they have a chance to win a World Series, the franchise’s third (1980 & 2008).
And the biggest reason why it’s within their grasp is Harper, who finished the NLCS with eight hits, five RBI, and two homers. He was named the NLCS MVP.
That’s what the face of a franchise does, if he’s truly that.
That’s why the Phillies gave him that 13-year, $330 million contract. They wanted him to lead their franchise to the World Series.
At the time of the signing, many thought the Phillies were crazy, and that it wouldn’t pay off for them. And there were doubts about Harper’s ability to lead the way. Peeps were wrong. Dead wrong.
Being big in big moments is the only way you truly validate your career.
All the personal accomplishments are nice — Harper won the NL MVP in 2021, his second (he won in 2015 as well) — but winning on the big stage and delivering in the clutch can’t be beaten.
Enter Mike Trout.
The man is a great baseball player and has all the tools. Many think he’s the best all-around player ever. And all the stat geeks have numbers to back up this claim.
But he will never truly be seen that way by the masses because he hasn’t won a thing. In fact, his team has never even won a playoff game in his career, let alone a playoff series.
We’ve never seen Trout come through in a big spot with the season on the line.
To be honest, most of his numbers are hollow. Most of the time, his only meaningful at-bats come in April and May. Normally, the Los Angeles Angels enter August out of playoff contention, and he’s just playing out the string.
Sure, you still have to go out and compete.
But there’s a difference between playing and competing when the result of the game hangs in the balance.
That’s why Harper’s blast was so huge, meaningful.
Had the Phillies lost Game 5 at home with a chance to clinch, who knows what could have happened?
His team would have had to go back to San Diego and try to close it out there. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who had the best record in baseball, didn’t make it out of there alive.
Same goes for teams that met Harper’s Phils. In this postseason, Harper has five homers, is batting .419 with a 1.351 OPS. His bat enabled the Phillies to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, the reigning World Champion Atlanta Braves, and now the Padres.
“No matter who was on the mound, No. 3 is made for that type of a moment,” said Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins about Harper. “And he did it again. None of us were surprised.”
And those who were are in hiding today. They won’t be watching the World Series. They don’t want to see Harper in a place they were convinced he’d never get to.