Bryce Harper hits 300th career homer as Phillies end fun August with a loss


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PHILADELPHIA — There is mutual admiration between this city and its star player, so the negotiations Wednesday afternoon were forthright. An 11-year-old boy and his father emerged with the baseball that Bryce Harper hit for his 300th home run. Harper is passionate about collecting keepsakes from his career. He kept his entire uniform from the Swing of His Life in October. One day, it’ll be displayed on a mannequin in his weight room.

So, Phillies officials escorted the two fans Wednesday to the service level at Citizens Bank Park. They requested a signed bat and a photo with Harper, who a day earlier had said a sports-talk radio caller inspired him to hit his 299th home run.

Harper appreciated the modest ask. So, he handed them the cleats he wore when he authored another signature moment here.

“I just love being a Phillie, plain and simple,” Harper said. “It’s something I dreamed about — this fanbase, this city. I love them, plain and simple. I feel like I’m part of this family. There’s nothing like it. I could go on and on; everybody thinks I pander a lot, but it’s real. It’s so real. It’s from the bottom of my heart and I’m just thankful to put this jersey on every day.”

As Harper took an epic curtain call, punctuated by him kissing the “Phillies” script across his chest, it was too perfect. He blasted the Phillies’ 59th homer in August — an absurd number tied for third-most in the history of the sport — to put his team ahead in the eighth inning. The Phillies were three outs from a dramatic conclusion to an incredible month. They lost when their veteran closer, Craig Kimbrel, surrendered three runs. “A loss is a loss,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said after the 10-8 loss to the Angels. “You can’t make too much of it.” Perfect is rather unattainable in life and in baseball, so the Phillies settled for a month that might have altered this season.

The Phillies went 17-10. They lost ground to the powerful Braves. They are going to have to win a three-game series in October to have a shot at Atlanta and Los Angeles to defend their National League crown.

So be it.

As Harper talked in the middle of the Phillies clubhouse, his teammates and coaches changed into red pinstriped overalls. “You’re going no shirt?” one said to another. “I’ll go no shirt too.” It was silly and it would have been better after a breathtaking win, but these Phillies are committed to the bit.

There is value in feeling relaxed. Trea Turner spent an entire month proving that to everyone. What is he going to remember about August?

“I just think the fun we’re having,” Turner said. “We’re on a good roll. I know today is a little bit of a hiccup, but I feel we’re playing really well. The fans are behind us all the time and showing up. I feel like it’s good vibes at the park each and every day.”

The negotiations began, in earnest, a few days earlier. Garrett Stubbs, the gregarious backup catcher, had ordered boxes of garish Phillies overalls. They arrived when the Phillies returned to South Philly for a nine-game homestand that resulted in seven wins. The two losses were both Kimbrel blown saves. The Phillies were that close to an unblemished homestand.

As this all unfolded, Stubbs had a plan. They had to wear the overalls on the charter flight to Milwaukee. Most big-league teams have some sort of dress-up trip during a six-month grind. It’s fun. Kyle Schwarber, the undisputed leader inside the clubhouse, took the idea to Rob Thomson.

He approved, but he advised Schwarber that staff would not participate. Schwarber pushed back. Fine, Thomson said, but the manager said he would not wear a pair.


That fun is shared beyond the dugout. Every August home game was like a party. Maybe a rehearsal for later. Why has there been such a connection between fans and a team that is not going to win its division?

“Well, we’ve had a lot of comeback wins,” Thomson said. “That shows some toughness. It’s a tough city. I think watching this team play is a lot of fun because they have a lot of fun. They do a lot of things to create fun. You can feel a genuine love that these guys have for each other.”

Thomson is a traditional baseball man who loves fedoras, but he could see how the overalls mattered. Same with a pregame closest-to-the-pin contest on the field last weekend to decide the draft order for the players’ fantasy football league. This all represented trust between the manager and his players.

“Because there’s a difference between having fun and messing around,” Thomson said. “And I know the difference. And I think they know the difference. So they sort of police themselves and I don’t really have to do too much about it. Unless, you know, they’re playing closest to the pin. Then I have to ask them what the hell is going on. And that was a one-time thing. I didn’t have to shut it down.

“But they do a great job of that. They know where to cut it off. Now it’s business. And they’re good at it.”

After Turner clobbered his ninth homer of August, he walked up the dugout steps Wednesday afternoon and tipped his helmet to the crowd. The schedule invited this rise. The Phillies played 19 games at home in August and they are a different team here. Turner, who confronted the lowest moments of his career at the beginning of August, had a hit in all 19 home games this month. He was greeted on Aug. 4 with a standing ovation. He ended it with another curtain call.

“I tell him every day he’s the best shortstop in the world,” Bryson Stott said. “He has a trophy to prove it. Just messing with him. He’s the same as Bryce. It’s like nothing really surprises you. His swing, it plays so well. It was only a matter of time before it was going to be like this.”

The 59 home runs in August were a franchise record but more symbolic than that. Turner was a big reason why. But it was more than that. “I think that’s what everyone was waiting for, those moments,” Harper said. “That’s the team we are.” So many of the homers were consequential swings — erasing a deficit, breaking a tie, ending a slump — and it felt like it was supposed to feel.

Trea Turner hit his ninth homer of August on Wednesday. (Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

There was Nick Castellanos, who crushed a ninth-inning homer against David Robertson to begin the month and flip a Phillies loss into a win. Weston Wilson, a 28-year-old rookie making his big-league debut, homered in his first at-bat. Harper raced around the bases for an inside-the-park homer against the contending Giants. Then, two days later, he drilled the foul pole to tie a game in the ninth inning. Schwarber hit one 447 feet. Alec Bohm swatted a go-ahead, three-run homer right after Harper was intentionally walked ahead of him.

“It’s hard to pick one,” third-base coach Dusty Wathan said.

“For the last two days, I thought August was over, to be honest,” reliever Matt Strahm said. “We’re still in August?”

“I don’t remember any of them,” Zack Wheeler said.

Wheeler has a serious facade. But he is the one who controls the fog machine in the clubhouse. He turned it a little too high after Tuesday night’s win and the haze was thicker than normal. Wheeler has fun — even if no one is allowed to see it.

This fun-loving bunch has to do it again in September because nothing is guaranteed. The Phillies have 29 more games and the priority is to ensure that someone has to come to Citizens Bank Park and beat the Phillies twice in three games. Between those 59 homers and 17 wins, they gained a brand of confidence that can be sustained.

“It was fun,” Bryson Stott said. “Just going on Instagram and seeing some people’s videos and stuff and saying it feels like October and it’s August. That was pretty cool. The stadium was rowdy from every pitch. It was a lot of fun.”

“We come from behind almost every single game, which is a good and bad thing,” Turner said. “I think that’s special; not every group can do that. And I feel like we have a little bit of a knack for that.”

No one had more fun in August than Turner. The Phillies are good at having fun, and for more than a year, they have justified that mindset. It could have been so amazing Wednesday with three more outs. That’s OK. On Friday, it’s September — and that means October is almost here.

(Top photo of Harper during a curtain call: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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