Harper chal­lenges Phillies team­mates to make the play­offs

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Con­tact Jack McCaf­fery at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com and fol­low him@ Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter

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.

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