Phillies salvage one behind Bryce Harper, ‘a pitcher's worst nightmare'


Phillies players jumped around like a bunch of second-graders in a moon bounce after Andrew Knapp drove home Bryce Harper with the clinching run in a 6-5 walk-off victory over the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Park on Wednesday afternoon.

From a distance, it wasn't clear if the burst of emotion was rooted more in relief or euphoria.

The Phillies needed this win. Badly. For a number of reasons, including the one standing on the steps of the visiting dugout.

It was bad enough that Giants manager Gabe Kapler returned to Philadelphia for the first time since being fired as Phillies skipper and led his team to wins in the first two games of the series. To be swept by Kapler's Giants would have stung from the dugout to the clubhouse and right on up to the owner's suite. It was, after all, managing partner John Middleton who made the call to fire Kapler in October 2019.

"I don't know," starting pitcher Zach Eflin said when asked if there was any more significance to the series because the polarizing Kapler was back in town. "You could say that. But at the end of the day, a walk-off is still a walk-off and we're going to react the way we do regardless of who it's against. We were fired up."

Joe Girardi, who succeeded Kapler as Phillies manager, didn't care if the win came against John McGraw. He was just happy to get one win in a series that the Phillies could have swept if they didn't go 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in losing the first game, 2-0, and didn't blow a four-run lead and give up two three-run homers in the eighth in losing the second game, 10-7.

"The first thing I think about is the organization and our team and our fans," Girardi said. "I don't take so much into account who we're playing. The bottom line is winning games. We probably should have won two out of three in this series. We were able to salvage one today. I think it was big of our guys to come back. You get a huge home run by Harper and then a big hit by Knappy. I think it was more important for our team."

The win put a cap on a 3-3 homestand and left the Phils at 9-9 as they head to Colorado for three with the Rockies followed by four in St. Louis.

Vince Velasquez will make his first start of the season Friday night in Coors Field. The inconsistent right-hander has had his problems — 26 hits, 11 walks in 20 1/3 innings — in the downtown Denver launching pad in the past. So stopping the losing skid at two was a good thing before the Phils got out of town.

"That was pretty much the definition of a team win," Knapp said. "Everyone had a part. We kind of got punched in the mouth there in the seventh inning. For us to come back and fight and show some character is big."

Eflin got an early lead thanks to Mickey Moniak's first big-league homer, a three-run shot in the second. Eflin left the game after six innings and 86 pitches. He threw pitches under cover during a 44-minute rain delay and that prevented him from going deeper. The right-hander entrusted a 4-1 lead to the bullpen in the seventh, but it quickly blew up when Brandon Kintzler allowed two hits and a one-out, game-tying, three-run homer to pinch-hitter Darin Ruf, another former Phillie who returned to town with the Giants.

Ruf's homer was indeed the punch in the mouth that Knapp talked about. And it came on an 0-2 pitch.

Before the inning was over, the Giants doubled up and punched the Phils in the mouth again. Left fielder Andrew McCutchen continued the Phillies' recent pattern of self-destructive play when he dropped a routine fly ball that would have been the third out. The Giants turned that miscue into the go-ahead run.

Everything was shaping up for another Phillies horror story and the sweep that Kapler desired until Harper basically stepped up and willed the Phils to victory. He clubbed a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game then drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth and became the winning run after Brad Miller's fourth hit of the day and Knapp's walk-off winner.

Harper added some stylish punctuation to the win when he dragged his hand across home plate instead of sliding.

"The guy's a game-changer," Knapp said. "That guy cares. He cares a lot. He wants to win a lot. That was a big homer by him. It got us back in the game. We were kind of down and out there for a second. For him to come up and do what he did is why he is who he is."

Harper did it the entire homestand. He went 11 for 17 with two doubles and two homers. He walked five times and scored six runs. His batting average went from .231 to .357 and his on-base percentage went from .388 to .493.

"To say he's locked-in is a pretty significant understatement," Eflin said.  "It's awesome watching him. Not only is he getting hits all over the field, but he's grinding out at-bats, he's spitting on stuff, he's really being a pitcher's worst nightmare up in the box.

"He's been huge for us. He's had clutch hits. He had the game-tying homer today. You're starting to feel that presence go throughout the whole team and everybody is getting fired up about it. So, we're really feeling a good streak coming and we're looking forward to continuing it."

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