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Tipsheet: Hader watches from bullpen as Harper's homer defeats Padres

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APTOPIX NLCS Padres Phillies Baseball

Philadelphia's Bryce Harper hits a two-run home run in the eighth inning in Game 5 of National League Championship Series on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Philadelphia.

Raise your hand if you believed — in the moment — that the San Diego Padres should have summoned elite closer Josh Hader to face Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper in the eighth inning Sunday.

This was classic example of how a game’s most critical bullpen challenge can arise before the ninth inning. This scenario illustrated why modern managers, like Oliver Marmol of the Cardinals, don’t always wait until the ninth to deploy his best high-leverage reliever

Harper has been hot. He loves the big stage. He swings from the left side of the plate, so sending the left-handed Hader against him seemed like the obvious call.

Yes, Hader is the Padres’ ninth-inning guy. But the heart of the Phillies batting order was lined up in the eighth.

But here’s a pro tip: Worry about the ninth inning if there is a ninth inning. Fail in the eighth on the road in an elimination game, as the Padres did, and the next opportunity to use your ninth-inning guy will come in spring training.

Padres manager Bob Melvin left Robert Suarez on the mound to face Harper, who smacked the decisive eighth-inning homer to eliminate the Padres and send the Phillies to the World Series.

“We were going to look for four outs,” Melvin explained during his postgame news conference. “We were trying to split it up with he and Suarez. But, look, we've got a lot of confidence in Suarez, came in and did a great job the inning before. We just fell a little bit short there.”

Melvin did not consider Hader as an option to finish off the game at that point. Had he brought Hader in during the eighth inning, Melvin said, “it would have been less than six outs for him. We would have tried to get through the inning with him.”

And . . .

“We were trying to get to four-out position for Hader,” Melvin said, “and we had a lot of confidence in Suarez.”

Conversely the Phillies had burned their top high-leverage relievers earlier in the game, due to the matchups and game situations, so they had to get creative to get through the ninth inning.

Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson had starting pitcher Ranger Suarez ready for the ninth in case reliever David Robertson buckled. As Marmol learned during the Ryan Helsley Fiasco, it's important to maintain maximum insurance coverage during postseason play.

Sure enough Robertson buckled, so Suarez came on to get the Phillies out of their ninth-inning jam and into the World Series.

TALKIN’ BASEBALL

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon come clean on topics they have flip-flopped on this season.

Here is what folks have been writing about Our National Pastime:

Tim McCullough, Baseball Prospectus: “When Harper came to the plate with nobody out and [JT] Realmuto on first, he had already racked up seven hits against the Padres, including three doubles and a home run. Harper entered the game with a postseason line of .410/.439/.872 and 10 of his 16 hits going for extra bases. The decision to leave Suárez in there against the veteran slugger Harper is one manager Bob Melvin is sure to be reflecting on all offseason. Left-hander Josh Hader, a veteran of big moments, could have been brought in to face Harper and try for a six-out save attempt. Arguably, this is why he was brought to San Diego, and while such an outing might rule the southpaw out for a potential Game 6, you have to get there. [Seranthony] Domínguez has gone two frames twice this postseason, logging a crucial win in one and a save in the other. Hader held left-handed batters to .209/.286/.349 line, giving up just one home run this season.”

Matt Snyder, CBSSports.com: “Bryce Harper has been on a major hot streak pretty much throughout the playoffs. He didn't get a hit in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, but he drew a walk and scored in their ninth-inning comeback. He homered in his first at-bat of Game 2 and it was, as they say, on. Starting with Game 2 of the first round, Harper has at least one hit in every single game . . . He singled in his first at-bat, moving his playoff hitting streak to 10 games . . . Oh, and Harper hit the biggest home run of his life in the bottom of the eighth inning.” 

Bob Nightengale, USA Today: “It was the moment, 5:48 p.m., that time stood still, with Harper taking the most beautiful stroll around the bases of his life. One inning later, it was over. The Phillies, the final team to make the 2022 postseason, are in the World Series, winning 4-3 over the San Diego Padres to take the best-of-seven National League Championship Series in five games.  It will forever be known as The Bryce Harper Game, living forever in Phillies lore.” 

Ben Clemens, FanGraphs: “Baseball isn’t scripted or preordained. There’s no knowing who will win any given game; Jacob deGrom lost to the A’s this year and the Pirates swept the Dodgers. It’s a game of thin margins, and with huge volatility; some games a smashed line drive leaves the park, while others it finds a fielder’s glove. It’s a game defined by its uncertainty – but be honest, you knew the Astros were going to win on Sunday, right?”

Joon Lee, ESPN.com: “The Houston Astros made going to the World Series look easy. This is October, after all, the time of year when it's easy to pencil in the Astros for making a deep postseason run -- and 2022 marked their sixth straight trip to the American League Championship Series. And somehow, this year's Astros team made things look even easier, steamrolling through the regular season to the tune of an American League-best 106 wins and sweeping all three games against the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS and all four games against the New York Yankees in the ALCS. The Astros won Game 4 of the ALCS 6-5 on Sunday night to punch their fourth ticket to the World Series since 2017. Of course, the Astros are in the World Series with a roster featuring a Hall of Fame ace in Justin Verlander and established superstars like José Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez. But under the facade of inevitability lies an organization culture that takes nothing for granted, that never assumes a deep trip into October, whose hunger for another World Series trophy never ceases.”

Gabe Lacques, USA Today: “The end came not abruptly, but inevitably, another desultory loss that’s become customary for a New York Yankees team that just three months ago was peerless but now enters yet another winter unmoored and unsure of the future. The devil was not in the details on a grim Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, when the Houston Astros completed their four-game sweep of the Yankees with a 6-5 rain-delayed victory that capped a third American League Championship Series conquest of the Bombers in six years. The Astros are the undisputed kings of the AL, more often using the Yankees as their steppingstone since 2017, and now the Yankees’ pennant-less streak stretches 13 years, a span in which seven AL teams have reached the Fall Classic. So begins months that will include a postmortem during which club officials will 'take accountability.' There will be a laborious dissection of manager Aaron Boone’s maneuvering and a deliberation on his clubhouse viability. And there will be the unsettling notion of Aaron Judge: Free agent. That process that should culminate with him receiving a contract that begins with a 3 followed by many zeros, providing a marquee attraction for the club’s TV network, a reason for suiteholders to show up, and perhaps even a C on the No. 99 jersey, as teammate Nestor Cortes suggested. Yet all the diagnoses and endless takes are largely beside the point. Yankee Stadium has become the land of the half measure, where the commitment to win is undeniable but the “at all costs” element has been missing for the better part of a decade. What ails the Yankees? Let’s just say it’s a top-down problem.”

MEGAPHONE

“You go back 40 years, and it was Mike Schmidt at the plate. I was dumbstruck. My jaw just opened up. It was a surreal moment. It was like a Hollywood script. It was like 'The Natural' with Robert Redford.”

Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton, on Harper’s homer.

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