After losing two tight games to the D-backs, who tied the National League Championship Series at two games apiece, the Phillies knew they had to find a way to respond early in Game 5. They had to swing the momentum back in their favor, what for the Phillies usually mean to hit some home runs. But in Saturday’s 6-1 win against the D-backs in Game 5 of the NLCS at Chase Field, the Phillies struck early, requiring a double in the first inning that led to a Bryce Harper home run. It was the first home run in the Phils’ 131-game postseason history. At 31, Harper also became the oldest player to hit the feat in a postseason game since Jackie Robinson’s iconic home run in the 1955 World Series at age 36.
* NLCS Game 6, presented by LoanDepot: Monday, 5 p.m. ET on TBS (8 ET if the ALCS is over) “From the beginning of the playoffs, the message to everybody was, ‘We’re going to pressure people,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Maybe force them to make mistakes. As the Phillies reviewed their scouting report before Game 5, first base and running backs coach Paco Figueroa saw an opportunity to be aggressive against the D-backs early in the game.
When Zac Gallen throws out of the stretch, the right-hander typically throws into the slide to more effectively hold runners in place. That movement, along with Gabriel Moreno’s stellar arm behind the plate, makes it nearly impossible for opposing teams to steal. The Gallen-and-Moreno hitting allowed just one steal in four attempts during the regular season. Most teams wouldn’t challenge Gallen and Moreno for the bases. It was the perfect combination for the Phillies. With two outs in the inning and Harper on third, the Phillies relied on Moreno to try to throw out Bryson Stott, who was on first when he broke to second.
Most catchers would pump fake in this situation to keep the lead runner at third and not run. But with Moreno’s arm, the Phillies knew he was trying to end the inning when Stott made a run.
That’s when Thomson called for one of the gutsiest moves of this Phillies postseason run. Figueroa went to Stott and told him to take off for second. Third-base coach Dusty Wathan relayed the message to Harper. “Just like Dusty said, he told me, ‘Hey, be aggressive right here,’” Harper said. “We’re going to be aggressive in this spot. Knowing how good Zack [Wheeler] is in the jam and trying to take advantage of that moment. Stott said the Phillies have been working on the game all season. He remembers a similar play last season against the Mets that didn’t work. But on Saturday, the play went exactly as they expected. As the Phillies second baseman advanced to second, Moreno rose from his crouch and threw a low throw to second baseman Ketel Martelle.
As Moreno shot to second, Stott got up to avoid the tag or fall. Meanwhile, Harper hit a home run as soon as the ball was released. He knew third baseman Evan Longoria was too far away for him to get out at third. Marte caught Moreno’s throw and fired back home, but the catcher couldn’t control the jumper, causing a collision between him and Harper. Moreno stayed in while the team’s coach checked and finished the game. “We’re working hard on it,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I think if we just pitch and catch and he takes the throw to home plate and gives Gabi a chance to catch the ball and tag Harper, he’s eight-foot-10. You try to pick up the game from there and get the game out. field. there, down 1-0 .He just jumped the trap and these types of things happen from time to time. Harper, on the other hand, had a much-needed second regular season, providing early support for Wheeler.
That was a big run for us in that inning,” Figueroa said. “We do it during the season and early in the game, but usually teams don’t lose late in the game. In that situation, they definitely trust the guy behind the plate, but he just didn’t make the throw. It was a risk we were willing to take.” * 10 crazy facts about the Phillies’ newest powerhouse For it to work, everything had to go according to plan. Harper had to break at the perfect time. Stott had to pull up in the same way. A little hesitation from either player and the Phillies could have lost the momentum, ending the inning with the baseman thrown out.
Harper later hit another postseason home run to extend the Phillies’ lead in the sixth, joining Randy Arozarena of the Rays as the only players to steal a home run and hit a home run in the same postseason game. “I just want to win,” Harper said. “Whatever it does, what it gets, what it looks like. It was a big game for us.”