PHILADELPHIA — If timing is everything, then Bryce Harper is all things.
Harper hit a home run on the first pitch he saw as a Phillie playing in a World Series at Citizens Bank Park. He did it in the first World Series game at the Bank in 13 years, which the Phillies won, 7-0.
Harper’s cannon shot unleashed a five-homer barrage from five Phillies — Harper, then Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber, and Rhys Hoskins — that finally chased Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. from Game 3 of the World Series in a seven-run hole with one out in the fifth inning, his ears ringing. If McCullers’ hearing wasn’t impaired by the cracks of the bats, then it was diminished by the jet-engine roars from the 45,712 that accompanied them.
Harper did it after four members of the Phillies’ Golden Era — Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth — caught ceremonial first pitches from four Philly champions — Flyers goalie Bernie Parent, Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, Brandon Graham, The Man Who Sacked Tom Brady, and, of course, Dr. J, Julius Erving.
He did it after he did this: His last swing at Citizens Bank Park had been the game-winning homer in the eighth inning of Game 5 that sent the Padres home in the NLCS.
Two swings. Two home runs.
No screenwriter would dare submit a script with such an obvious, cloying plot. No self-respecting novelist would pander in this manner. It’s too sentimental. Baseball is not a Hallmark movie.
Except, well, the Phillies kinda are. They love each other, and they support each other, and their superstar makes it so.
Harper is the $330 million cornerstone of the most expensive Phillies roster in history. He is the face, the voice, and, if it carries one, the debt service of the franchise.
As such, he carried the Phillies three games into the fourth round of the playoffs with a .392 average, a 1.230 OPS, five home runs, six doubles, and 11 RBIs in 13 games, the NLCS MVP trophy already in his case.
Now he leads all postseason players who’ve played at least 10 games with a .382 average, a 1.232 OPS, and 13 RBIs. His six homers tie him with Hoskins.
He’s having an October that turns two-name superstars into one-name pastime gods.
Babe. Reggie. Papi.
Too much? Really?
Then consider this: The most famous instance of a player calling his shot in the postseason was when Babe Ruth pointed at center field in Wrigley Field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, then launched a ball over the barrier.
The next-most famous: Harper looked at hitting coach Kevin Long as he left the dugout in Game 5 of the NLCS and said, “Let’s give ‘em something to remember.”
We are living fairy tale greatness.
It gets better.
Harper has done it as the reigning National League MVP, which he’s now won twice. He’s done it by outlasting Manny Machado of the Padres, the player the Phillies failed to sign when they made Harper the richest player in franchise history.
And he’s done it all with one arm tied behind his back. In early April, Harper tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which is his throwing arm. He hasn’t played in the field since. He can hit, however, so he’s been the designated hitter.
Has he ever.
Don’t think he doesn’t know what he is, or what he’s doing.
Zack Wheeler and Rhys Hoskins both called Harper “The Showman” after he clinched Game 5 of the NLCS. There’s plenty of evidence.
He showed up to opening day 2019 in Phillie Phanatic cleats.
He read a book with the Phanatic on Instagram in 2020, the same season he wore Phanatic-themed liner in his opening-day suit.
He lobbied for the Phillies to re-sign catcher J.T Realmuto after the 2019 season, and they made him the richest catcher in history. He lobbied for the Phillies to exceed the luxury tax this season for the first time in team history by signing mashers Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, and they did.
He is built for the moment, and every chance he gets, he milks it.
He milked it Tuesday night.
Harper took his time stepping into the box, as he always does. He pressed his feet and knees together, bent, and rotated his hips a bit. Add a bit of merengue, and you get the picture. He stroked the dirt at the back of the left-side batter’s box with his left hand. Then, left hand raised, he took his stance: He placed his left foot, then his right foot, six inches farther apart than shoulder width.
Then he waited for the trash-can curveball that he knew was coming. He kept his hands back, fired through the hitting zone, his water-blue eyes focused where horsehide and timber collide, and sent it.
The throng at the Bank rose with the arc of the ball, first their bodies, then their voices.
And then, pandemonium.
McCullers, the pitcher, had a conniption, first flailing his arms, then snapping his head around to watch the ball torpedo into the crowd 402 feet away in right-center field.
It was such a magnificent lash that even Harper’s victim couldn’t resist.
Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the first inning in Game 3 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia. (Elsa/Getty Images/TNS)