PHILADELPHIA – When gossip spread among the Phillies that Bryce Harper — of all the superstars to poke — had been laughed at inside the Braves clubhouse, his teammates dared the slugger to deliver.
“They looked at me,” Harper said, “and they were like, ‘What are you going to do?’”
Well, how about two homers, two staredowns, four RBIs, and one more marvelous game to add to his growing October lore.
Harper answered Orlando Arcia’s mockery with a mammoth three-run homer and a solo shot, glaring at the shortstop on each trot around the bases, and Philadelphia beat Atlanta 10-2 in Game 3 of their NL Division Series on Wednesday night.
“Yeah, I mean, I stared right at him,” Harper said.
Aaron Nola (2-0) and four relievers combined to push the 104-win Braves to the brink of elimination. The Phillies can advance to the NL Championship Series for the second straight season with a win at home Thursday.
Nick Castellanos homered twice as Philadelphia rebounded from its disappointing loss at Atlanta on Monday night. With Trea Turner and Brandon Marsh also going deep, the Phillies set a franchise postseason record with six homers in all.
Harper and Castellanos are the fourth pair of teammates in postseason history to each hit multiple home runs in a game, a list topped by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1932 World Series.
“(Harper’s) one of the best in the world for a reason,” Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “When we’re in these moments, this is baseball at its best for him. When it’s at his best for him, anything can happen.”
Harper continues to make teams pay for any perceived slight, and his eighth and ninth postseason homers in the last two seasons added to the Phillies’ pursuit of the franchise’s first World Series championship since 2008.
Not that he needs any incentive to go deep, but Harper tried to atone for a Game 2 baserunning blunder that capped an astonishing collapse. Harper had rounded second base on a deep flyout and was doubled up at first to end the game, the final moment in a series of late-inning plays that melted a 4-0 lead into a 5-4 loss.
In the jubilant Atlanta clubhouse after the win, Arcia cracked, “ha-ha, attaboy, Harper.” Faster than Harper rocked his shot off Game 3 starter Bryce Elder (0-1), the barb got back to the two-time NL MVP.
“He can look wherever he wants to look,” Arcia said through a translator. “When you’re in the clubhouse, I was under the impression you could say whatever you wanted. He wasn’t supposed to hear it. That’s when we were talking in the clubhouse.”
Harper and Castellanos seemed to send a message about the wisecrack when they arrived at the ballpark wearing gear inspired by Colorado coach Deion Sanders. Harper wore a “ Coach Prime” T-shirt and Castellanos a “Prime” hoodie.
The brash Sanders retorted at criticism earlier this season from a rival coach by saying, “they done messed around and made it personal.”
Harper took it personal.
First, though, it was Castellanos — who said after Game 2 that the Phillies “thrive after we get punched in the face” — who delivered the first counterpunch with a homer in the third that tied it at 1.
Rep Deion, hit dingers. That’s a Philly fact.
Harper’s 10 career homers in the NLDS are now tops in baseball history.
“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s one of those guys that loves that stage. He’s a special player. You put him in the spotlight, and he’s going to shine.”
Castellanos and Harper insisted it was coincidence that they both wore Sanders shirts to the game.
Castellanos said he was simply a fan and “today just felt like the perfect day to wear it.” Harper said he had second thoughts about wearing a shirt of the former Braves star on his drive to the ballpark.
“Oh no, he actually played for Atlanta,” Harper said, laughing. “Maybe I should turn around and go take this shirt off. But then I was just like, man, I’m a big fan of Prime and what he’s doing to Colorado.”
Once again, the Phillies pounded the Braves in the third inning of Game 3 of the NLDS for the second straight season.
A year ago, the Phillies returned home from a 1-1 split in Atlanta and scored six runs in the third. The outburst was highlighted by Rhys Hoskins’ bat spike on a three-run homer.
After Castellanos and Harper went deep off Elder in this one for a 4-1 lead, catcher J.T. Realmuto tacked on a two-run double against Michael Tonkin.
Harper added a solo shot to center in front of 45,798 frenzied Phillies fans in the fifth off Brad Hand — well out of reach for Michael Harris II, who saved the Game 2 win with a great leaping catch — and delivered one more death stare to Arcia as he rounded second base.
“Stare downs aren’t an official stat (yet!) but we’re all in awe of Harper over here,” the Elias Sports Bureau wrote on social media.
Nola, eligible for free agency after the World Series, tipped his cap in appreciation of a roaring standing ovation after 5 2/3 innings. He struck out nine and allowed Ozzie Albies’ RBI single in the third.
The Phillies have run a scoreboard ad this season for a technology and investment solutions company that said “Building brave futures.” For Game 3, brave was covered up by an image of the Phillie Phanatic’s lengthy red tongue.
The Phillies are 3-0 at home in the playoffs this season and have a 25-11 career postseason record at Citizens Bank Park. The .694 winning percentage is the best among all teams with least 30 games in their home park in baseball history.
The Chicago Cubs (Game 3, 2015 NLDS) are the only other team to hit six homers in a postseason game.
Castellanos and Marsh also hit back-to-back homers, the fifth time the Phillies achieved that feat in postseason history.
The Braves will start right-hander Spencer Strider in Game 4. The 20-game winner went seven innings in Game 1, allowing one earned run on five hits with eight strikeouts.
Ranger Suárez, who earned a no-decision in his Game 1 start, will start for the Phillies in Game 4.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb