Philadelphia Phillies

Bryce Harper plays the hero the Phillies are paying him to be

Bryce Harper’s walkoff grand slam against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday is the type of moment the Phillies had in mind when they paid him $330 million.

It was nights like this that the Philadelphia Phillies dreamed of when they gave Bryce Harper a record-setting deal in the offseason.

Harper, the Phillies’ $330 million right fielder, came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday with the bases loaded and the Phillies trailing the Chicago Cubs 5-3. The Cubs brought in left-handed reliever Derek Holland, who hadn’t given up a home run to a lefty in two years, to face Harper.

After getting ahead 0-2, Holland missed with two changeups before Harper fouled off a sinker. Now with the count 2-2, Holland came back with a 95 mph sinker on the inside corner. Harper connected with this one, sending the ball 413 feet into the second deck at Citizens Bank Park for a walkoff grand slam and a 7-5 Phillies win.

Harper rounded the bases like a runner trying to leg out a triple in the gap. He and the rest of the fans realized the importance of this win. The Phillies (63-58) have now won three in a row and are within a game of the second NL Wild Card spot.

Harper is starting to show signs of being the player the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him to a 13-year contract in March. His grand slam on Thursday was his fifth home run in the past six games. The ball was measured with a 113 mph exit velocity and a 40-degree launch angle. In the Statcast era, no one had hit a home run that high and that hard. It was Harper’s sixth career walkoff home run and fifth grand slam. The Phillies last hit a walkoff grand slam while trailing in the ninth inning in 1983.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Phillies offense was struggling. They were last in the National League in runs scored since the All-Star break and ahead of only the Miami Marlins in OPS. Harper was leading the league in strikeouts while posting his worst OPS in three years. That lack of production led to a change. Hitting coach John Mallee was fired on Tuesday, replaced by Charlie Manuel, who managed the Phillies to their last World Series title in 2008.

Manuel’s presence was felt immediately. In his first game back in the Phillies dugout on Wednesday, the team erupted for 11 runs on 13 hits in a win against the Cubs. Harper went 3-3 with two home runs. He said after the game on Thursday that, while he hasn’t had an opportunity to hit down and talk hitting with Manuel just yet, the old coach’s philosophy is starting to help the club.

“We haven’t really had a talk. The last two days are his first two days. He’s never seen a homer he didn’t like,” Harper told MLB Network. “Try to go up there and just get a pitch over the plate, that’s his biggest thing.”

The Phillies trailed the Cubs by four runs going to the ninth before Brad Miller and Roman Quinn got them to within two with RBI singles. That allowed Harper, 0-3 with two strikeouts on the night before the inning, to get a chance to play the hero. Harper is now hitting .253 on the year with 25 home runs and 87 RBI.

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For the Cubs, the loss drops them into a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead. They had won 489 straight games while leading by at least four runs in the ninth inning, the longest active streak in the NL. That streak came to an end on Thursday, and the Phillies have 330 million reasons to savor it.

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