Harper challenges Phillies teammates to make the playoffs
After the 102-game rain-delay and after the injuries, after the goofball rules changes and after so many irrational postponements, after playing games before mannequins and similarly mindless minorleague umpires, the Phillies are about to receive their answer.
By Sunday night, they will know if they have been able to make good on their initial promise to Bryce Harper.
By then, at the latest, they will be a playoff team and an organization headed in a reasonable direction, or they will have been re-branded as an inept operation unable to reach a postseason for nearly a full decade.
By then, they will know if they are in a position to benefit from their 13-year, $330,000,000 investment in Harper, or if the whole scheme was a quick publicity stunt.
By then, they will be winners, or they will be losers. Over-reaction? Over-statement of a situation in a once-ever season?
Over-sell of the importance of the weekend the Phillies are about to spend in Tampa?
Harper doesn’t think so. He doesn’t think so at all.
“I’m very excited to hopefully be in that position this year,” Harper was saying the other night, after slugging two home runs in a critical victory in Washington. “That would solidify us in many different ways, of getting there and getting there often, not just one years but in multiple years.
“Hopefully, it would help in getting free agents in here because they know we are a postseason team that they can come to and help us win.”
And there it was, tucked neatly into the end of a video interview, late at night, late in a season: Harper’s challenge to his teammates and, more, to the front office.
Though he didn’t say it, he didn’t commit to the Phillies because he expected Brandon Workman to be the closer. He didn’t buy into John Middleton’s sales pitch because he expected the Phillies to trade for J.T. Realmuto only as a two-year rent-astar on an expiring contract. He didn’t expect to play in an empty stadium, which this particular year was nobody’s fault, but which can become a trend should the Phillies finish under .500.
This is the moment that Harper envisioned, a weekend series with a playoff spot on the line, and a shot to do something in the postseason … and beyond.
“I think we’re a postseason organization,” Harper said. “You saw it for a long period of time, then didn’t see it for a long period of time.”
That’s how Middleton sold the Phillies to
Harper, that he was in a mood to spend what it took to win another nifty trophy, to restore his team to what it was from 2007 through 2011, to be an attractive, serious, championshipobsessed destination for baseball’s brightest stars.
David Phelps would not be in that sub-set.
“So we need to get back there,” Harper said. “The ability to sign free agents because we get there is why I came here.”
He couldn’t have been more clear about his mood had he taken batting practice in a Realmuto jersey. And, by the way, he did that, too. But he has been professional enough only to troll, not blame, the front office. He has understood that it is up to the players on staff to stampede through Tampa and earn a playoff
spot, himself included. That’s why he has been playing despite an achy back, taking every extra base, hitting home runs to all fields and spreading expectations around the clubhouse.
“I came here to win,” he said. “I came here to be successful as an organization. I came here to get the Philadelphia Phillies back on Broad Street and to do the things we need to do to be successful for a long period of time. That’s what I want to do. That’s what the players in that clubhouse want to do. But you’ve got to want it. You have to come in here every single day and want to win and want to battle, no matter how you feel.”
The Phillies have been sore in too many places. That could be an effect of so many doubleheaders made necessary by inappropriate
over-reactions to a virus going around. But no team had it easy this season. So they will keep their complaints suitable for polite company.
Joe Girardi, who grew up as a fan of Chicago sports teams, remembers how the Bulls once had to learn to win, and were at their best only after finally overcoming the Pistons in the 1980s. He brought the Phillies into that conversation the other night, saying they needed to learn, too, how to succeed. But can any team counting on Andrew McCutchen, Harper, Realmuto, Jay Bruce, Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura be considered the latter-day Whiz Kids? The Phils are pretty old, actually. There’s not a baseball riddle that most of them have not solved.
So into the weekend they charge, boosted by a nice victory in D.C. If by Monday, they are setting their postseason roster, Bryce Harper can feel that some of the promises they made him were delivered.
“It’s very special when you get there,” he said. “It’s one of the most fun environments I’ve ever played in. It’s some of the best baseball in the world, and I have never been past the first round.
“It’s a blast. I absolutely love the postseason.”
He expects to be there with the Phillies for many years.
It’s time for the first one.
Phillies’ Bryce Harper, left, celebrates his home run with third base coach Dusty Wathan during the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Nationals.