Connect with us

Published

on

Seventy minutes after hitting the most important home run of his life Sunday, a two-run blast that won the Philadelphia Phillies the National League Championship Series, Bryce Harper was at the center of the clubhouse, surrounded by his teammates as beer and champagne soaked anyone within spraying range.

“Give me all of it, give me all of it,” the series MVP shouted to his teammates. His wish was instantly granted, as beer poured down on him from every direction.

Harper’s place in the middle of the celebration was only fitting, as was the fact that he manufactured the moment that sent his Phillies to the World Series. He has been the face of the franchise since the 2019 day he committed to the city for 13 years after owner John Middleton wrote a $330 million check to bring him to Philadelphia.

Despite plenty of moments when he might have doubted he made the right choice in leaving Washington for Philadelphia as a free agent, Harper has always embraced his new home. Even when his old team, the Washington Nationals, won the World Series in 2019. Even when Philadelphia changed GMs and managers more than once during a turbulent first four years with the franchise — including when Rob Thomson took over for Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start this season.

“I don’t like looking back,” Harper said after the game, with his MVP trophy sitting next to him. “I like looking forward and moving forward. This game is ‘what have you done for me lately?'”

He never lost faith, always believing what Middleton had promised him: The organization would always put winning above all else.

Not long after the Sunday home run, owner and star met on the field amid celebratory chaos. Their hug lasted longer than the flight of the ball — which left the playing field at 108.9 mph. Middleton was asked if the embrace meant something extra special.

“You bet it did,” he said. “$330 million later, and mutual promises of being committed to winning and doing whatever it took to win. He did that.”

The home run that sent Philadelphia back to the World Series for the first time since 2009 justified the Phillies’ spending on Harper, as well as the free agent deals this spring that brought in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos — both of whom had front-row views of Harper’s blast; Schwarber from the dugout, and Castellanos from the on-deck circle. “It looked like I was having an exorcism on the dugout rail,” Schwarber said in a beer-soaked locker room. “Man, he’s nasty.”

Castellanos marveled at how different the celebration felt from when Harper had hit a walk-off home run against Castellanos’ Cubs three years earlier.

“The way he ran around the bases [in 2019] was crazy and energetic,” Castellanos said. “Tonight, he was the calmest person in the stadium. I think that’s a lot of growth on his part.

“Watching him [tonight] was a big lesson for me. The way he was able to immerse himself in the moment and stay focused and calm was f—ing incredible. Please use those exact words.”

This clubhouse littered with empty bottles of Budweiser and champagne was always the goal when Castellanos and Schwarber signed with Philadelphia within days of each other after the lockout, giving Harper some much-needed thump around his own power bat in the lineup.

For Castellanos, this is the winning team he has been on a mission to find ever since being drafted by Detroit in 2010. After going 10 major league seasons without winning a postseason series, he has enjoyed three champagne celebrations just this month.

“We both want to win so bad,” Castellanos said when asked what he learned of Harper this season. “That’s one thing we have in common.”

For Schwarber, winning has never been an issue. He has done it everywhere he’s been his entire career. Praised as the ultimate glue guy in the Phillies clubhouse throughout this postseason, Schwarber has appeared in six league championship series for three different teams. But he was hurt for the only pennant-clinching win of his career, when the Chicago Cubs won it all in 2016. He never got the full playoff experience until now.

“It was cool for me,” he said Sunday between puffs of a cigar. “To be with them the whole year, from day one, has been awesome. Last time [in Chicago] I was down for the whole year.”

This was also a first for the longest-tenured Phillies position player, first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins had four home runs in five games this series and might have been named MVP if not for Harper’s heroics — but couldn’t bring himself to care about that while he celebrated his first pennant win.

“It’s a dream,” Hoskins said, wide-eyed on the field afterward. “This organization is the one that believed in me and gave me an opportunity to impact the city of Philadelphia in any way I could.”

Harper’s arrival signaled to Hoskins that the organization was serious about winning after years of frustration. Until this season, Hoskins had never played in a postseason game, instead having to hear stories of glory about teams from the past. Every time he looked up at the video scoreboard during this series, there was another Phillies great looking down from the stands: Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino — all members of the team’s 2008 World Series-winning squad.

The dream of joining those former players as champions became realistic once Harper arrived. Hoskins wasn’t surprised that it was Harper who delivered the big play that finally got him there.

“It’s probably something that he’s had in his head since the time he picked up a bat,” Hoskins said. “It’s been a while. He changed cities and had to get used to a new organization. For him to come through in that moment is storybook stuff.”

Later, in a hallway underneath the stands behind home plate, Harper shared a moment with actor Miles Teller, a huge Phillies fan, while still clutching his MVP trophy. He sat in the media room and said all the right things: The team isn’t satisfied with just winning the pennant and has four more games to win from here. But Harper looked most comfortable back in the clubhouse, allowing beer to be poured on him while sharing a victory that ended the series — instead of packing up to head across the country for Game 6.

“I didn’t want to get back on that flight back to San Diego,” he said. “I just didn’t want to get on a 5½-hour flight. I wanted to hang out at home and enjoy this at home with these fans and this organization and this fan base.”

The Phillies are headed to the World Series because of Harper. This is his team and now his city — and it was his heroics that allowed his home fans to celebrate the win in their ballpark.

Continue Reading

Sports

Wyshynski: My picks for every series in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs

Published

on

By

Wyshynski: My picks for every series in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs

Before each season, I predict who will win the Stanley Cup. I predict who they will defeat for the Stanley Cup.

Both the champion and the runner up from those preseason predictions for 2023-24 qualified for the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. Rather than hedge or waver against that prognostication, I actually see a path for both of them in this tournament. Call it delusional, call it stubborn, call it hubris — I’m sticking with them.

Here is how the Stanley Cup playoffs will play out, from the opening round through the last game of the Final. I apologize in advance for spoiling the next two months for you, as obviously all of this is going to happen exactly to script and none of these picks will be incorrect.

Please enjoy the best postseason tournament in all of sports, no matter how it actually plays out.

Continue Reading

Sports

Struggling Hendricks to start, but Cubs worried

Published

on

By

Struggling Hendricks to start, but Cubs worried

CHICAGO — Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks will make his scheduled start against the Miami Marlins on Sunday, but the team is concerned about the veteran’s start to the season.

Hendricks, 34, is 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA over four outings that includes a league-high seven home runs allowed.

“It’s not one or two starts,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Friday morning. “It’s been four, so I think there is a level of concern, but I would also say, given his track record and given the fact that he’s gotten through some struggles in the past, this isn’t the first time he’s struggled. No one pitches in the big leagues and doesn’t have those struggles at some point.”

Hendricks has always been a slow starter, but this April has been particularly bad. Opposing batters are hitting .514 off his sinker, and his four-seam fastball hasn’t been much better. His changeup has also been problematic, although it was better last time out against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Time isn’t on Hendricks’ side as the Cubs have a group of young pitchers pushing for more time on the mound.

“Kyle’s performance needs to improve,” manager Craig Counsell stated simply. “We’re clear on that, and I think Kyle agrees on that.”

The Cubs won’t put on a timetable on needing to see improvement — Counsell said every situation is different — but with the return of Jameson Taillon from injury and Justin Steele not far off, the team is hoping for improvement soon.

“The velocity is the same, if not a tick up from last year,” Hoyer said. “His location and execution have been poor. He’s paid for it, facing good lineups.”

Hendricks will get a softer landing against the Marlins on Sunday as they enter the weekend ranked 29th in OPS. That should be an easier task than the four previous opponents he faced: the Rangers, Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks. In between, he missed the light-hitting Rockies (in Chicago) and Mariners.

“It’s been about elite, elite level of command and execution and sequencing,” Hoyer said. “We haven’t had that. Without those things, he’s not going to get results.”

Some in Hendricks’ orbit want him to throw his curveball more — he has nearly abandoned it over the past two seasons — while others just believe it’s the execution of his bread-and-butter pitches that needs to be better. Hendricks is the longest-tenured Cubs player and has survived in the majors on his sinker and changeup.

“There’s a level of concern,” Hoyer reiterated. “But I’m confident he’ll figure it out.”

With Taillon’s first start of the season Friday and a doubleheader Saturday, the Cubs are hopeful for a longer stint out of Hendricks come Sunday. He has made it through five innings only once this season while the team has amassed the second-fewest innings from its starting staff overall.

“The nature of the weekend is we need innings from everybody, with what’s going on,” Counsell said.

The return of Taillon means Ben Brown will go back to the bullpen after a successful couple of starts, but depending on how Hendricks performs in the near future, Brown’s role could change again.

Hendricks, a onetime World Series hero, is under pressure to perform in potentially his final year with the Cubs. He will be a free agent after the season.

“So much of what he does is based on execution and feel, and maybe it takes a little bit longer,” Hoyer said. “His place in Cubs history is secure. I don’t think anything is going to change that.”

Continue Reading

Sports

Rangers option rookie Leiter after shaky debut

Published

on

By

Rangers option rookie Leiter after shaky debut

ATLANTA — Texas Rangers rookie right-hander Jack Leiter was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on Friday, one day after allowing seven runs in his major league debut.

The Rangers recalled right-hander Owen White from Round Rock to provide bullpen depth for the start of their weekend series against the Atlanta Braves.

Leiter, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft, allowed seven runs on eight hits in 3⅔ innings in Thursday’s 9-7 win at the Detroit Tigers. He walked three and struck out three.

Leiter, the son of Al Leiter, who won 162 games in 19 major league seasons, was promoted after he went 1-1 with 25 strikeouts and three walks in 14 innings over three appearances for Round Rock.

Continue Reading

Trending