Phillies Playoffs

‘Yeah, I stared right at him' — Harper on Arcia, his playoff resume and Phillies' huge night

NBC Universal, Inc.

Bryce Harper heard about it from his teammates.

Shortly after Game 2 of the NLDS ended with Harper being doubled off of first base on a spectacular play by center fielder Michael Harris II, a reporter observed Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia relishing in Harper's misfortune, repeating "Atta-boy Harper" in the home clubhouse at Truist Park.

"They just kind of told me," Harper said after the Phillies' emphatic 10-2 win in Game 3. "They looked at me and they were like, 'What are you going to do?'"

At this point, maybe they should have known.

Harper answered with his lumber Wednesday night to put the Phillies a win away from the NLCS. His three-run home run in the third inning provided a lead the Phils never relinquished, and two innings later, he went deep again. Both times, he shot daggers at Arcia as he rounded second base.

"Yeah, I stared right at him," he admitted postgame.

Added motivation?

"I mean, anytime anybody says something, right? That's what it's all about," he said.

A future Hall of Famer, Harper has built a playoff resume that borders on the absurd. As a Phillie the last two postseasons, he's hit .350 with nine home runs, seven doubles and 18 RBI in 22 games.

It's also been two straight years of destroying Braves pitching. In 30 games, including the playoffs, he has hit .316 with 20 extra-base hits (12 of them homers) and 26 RBI against Atlanta.

Why provide him any extra fuel? Why pitch to him at this point, period?

"I don't know if he was planning on it or not," Brandon Marsh said of the staredown, "but that's the best way of taking care of business."

Harper was in a reflective mood Wednesday night after hitting two of the Phillies' six home runs, matching the playoff record by any team.

He's stacked so many enormous moments together in his five years as a Phillie, some in the regular season, some in the playoffs. It's reached a point where he is expected — by himself, by his teammates, by his fanbase, by impartial observers — to do something dramatic when the situation calls for it.

"There's nothing like growing up and playing the game of baseball. When I was 10 years old, 11 years old, I played in so many big tournaments and big lights," he said. "And I mean, you guys couldn't imagine the pressure of the situations or going to (junior college) early and having everybody in the world relying on you to be the number one pick. That was hard.

"You know, 17 years old, 16 years old, trying to be the number one pick, knowing that if you're not, you're a failure. That's pressure, you know? Trying to make all the money you can to get your family out of an area or set them up for life, that's pressure. This is all cake, man. This is so much fun.

"This is what it's all about, just coming in here and playing the game that I love, and it's not pressure anymore when you're just playing and having fun. Those moments are — all the pressure is gone.

"I remember telling my dad when I was 11 years old, I'm going to be the number one pick, and that's it. And from that moment on, it's like, OK, here's the pressure. But this is all just so much fun. I'm so grateful to be here, so grateful to play this game. And I wouldn't be here without my good Lord willing. He puts me in this moment and this spot, and I'm just so thankful for that."

Harper struck out swinging at a high fastball in his first at-bat to fall to 0-for-5 against Braves rookie right-hander Bryce Elder. The next time up, he caught a hanging, middle-in, 85 mph slider and parked it to right field to give the Phillies a three-run lead.

"You put him in the spotlight and he's going to shine," Braves manager Brian Snitker said, resigned to the fact that he has to figure out a way to stop letting Harper beat his team.

Nick Castellanos started the Phillies' big third inning with a solo homer and ended it after the Phillies batted around. They put up a six-spot, just like they did in the third inning of Game 3 of the 2022 NLDS in this same park against the same team.

"I think that the way (Game 2) ended in Atlanta was perfect, because I think that jolt of emotion and seeing them really celebrate kind of set the tone for this game," Castellanos said.

"You know, rather than let's say if Bryce would have gotten back (to first base) and we would have worked it and we would have just lost in a normal way … having that exclamation point on the loss, I think, was perfect for our group of guys."

The Phillies are in an enviable position. Not only would they advance to the next round with one more win, they would have home-field advantage if they reach the NLCS with the Diamondbacks upsetting the Dodgers.

They would also have home-field advantage in the World Series — should they get that far – if the Astros beat the Rangers in the ALCS. The Phillies, Rangers and Astros all finished 90-72. The Phils own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Houston but not Texas. Their 90th win on the final day of the season might have more than just symbolic meaning.

That's all still a ways away, but it's becoming more realistic with each Phillies win.

To stop the Phils, the Braves will need to win Game 4 in Philadelphia and Game 5 in Atlanta, started by Zack Wheeler.

"Last year is last year, and this year it's a new year, and everything is not going to go the same as it did last year," Aaron Nola said, even though so much of the 2023 script has matched 2022.

"We've still got one more game to finish this thing off, and we're going to enjoy this one tonight and come out tomorrow and compete. Ranger (Suarez) is going to give it his all and compete his butt off like he usually does. Look forward to that one."

Contact Us