SAN FRANCISCO - The Phillies had fun Friday night. And this is notable because all too often lately it has looked like they were having no fun at all.
That'll happen when you're not winning, when you're not scoring runs, when you're getting one-hit, as the Phillies were on Thursday night.
Twenty-four hours after that miserable performance against the San Francisco Giants, the Phillies rebounded with a 10-hit attack and beat the Giants, 9-6 (see observations).
After watching his team lose three in a row and score just one run in the previous two games, manager Gabe Kapler moved Bryce Harper to the leadoff spot and the move paid dividends. Harper clubbed two mammoth homers (420 and 465 feet) and drove in four runs. Corey Dickerson batted third in Kapler's shaken not stirred lineup and he had a three-run triple.
"We definitely looked to shake things up today and saw some benefits from it," Kapler said. "It was nice to see Harper come up several times in big spots. Obviously, you can't always predict that will happen, but it's good that it did."
Harper came up in the seventh inning against lefty reliever Tony Watson with two men on base and the Phils down a run. Harper had been 0 for 8 with three strikeouts in his career against Watson. This time, Harper won the battle. He clubbed a go-ahead, three-run homer that splashed down in McCovey Cove.
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The home run saved starter Drew Smyly, who had given up the lead in the bottom of the sixth.
"Every time [Harper] comes up, whether he's struggling or having nights like tonight, I think everybody in the park expects him to do something great," Smyly said. "I know that he probably hasn't been doing as well as his expectations or a lot of people's, but nights like tonight, he can bust out of it. He just wins the game. He puts the team on his back, and that's what he did tonight."
"Bryce was huge for us, particularly the home run off Watson," he said. "When the opposition brings in their left-handed pitcher to get your big left-handed hitter out and Bryce does damage like that, it's a huge boost to the dugout, a huge momentum shifter.
"This was a huge moment for our club and we certainly rode Bryce to this victory."
The win broke a three-game losing skid for the Phillies and prevented them from slipping to fourth place in the NL East. They have the same record (60-56) as the New York Mets, who have surged into wild-card contention with 14 wins in their last 15 games. Both teams, along with St. Louis, are a half-game out of the second wild-card berth.
The Phils will need more nights like this from Harper to stay in the wild-card chase, more nights when he produces and plays with emotion that is contagious.
Harper, who considered signing with San Francisco before taking $330 million from the Phillies, hears it from fans wherever he goes. Chants of Overrated! … Overrated! rain down upon him in every - yes, every - visiting ballpark. He usually lets it all roll off his shoulders without acknowledging it. But on this night, Harper responded to the fans. After his first homer, a solo shot in the fifth, he crossed home plate, raised his index finger to his lips and shushed the crowd.
Two innings later, he celebrated his three-run homer with teammates as he made his way to the dugout.
Harper would not get into specifics, but something definitely fired him up.
"I think it just depends on what people say," he said. "There are things people say that people shouldn't say and shouldn't come out of their mouths but that's part of sports, I guess, and that's part of fan bases. San Fran's got a great fan base. They love their team, they love their city. It's a lot of fun going back and forth so it's good."
Rhys Hoskins hit behind Harper. He said fans in the box seats around the Phillies dugout were "wearing him out all night."
Ultimately, Harper had the last word.
"It's always fun coming into hostile environments and hostile situations," he said.
It's about time that the Phillies played with a little joy of the game.
"Oftentimes what we find is good performance leads to enjoyment," Kapler said. "Winning and scoring runs leads to life on the field and when you don't see that sometimes it feels like there isn't life. That's not taking anything away from what you saw today, which was Bryce enjoying himself and our dugout enjoying themselves.
"It was playful in the dugout. Sometimes being playful and smiling a little bit and not having things be too serious can lead to production like we saw today."
The Phillies and Giants play again Saturday afternoon.
And the lineup?
"I think that we'll probably run Bryce back out at the top again tomorrow," Kapler said.
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