Seventy minutes after he hit the most important home run of his life Sunday, a game-clinching walkoff game against the Phillies, Bryce Harper was in the center of the clubhouse, surrounded by teammates as beer and champagne drenched everyone within splashing range.
“Give me everything, give me everything,” the series MVP shouted to his teammates. His wish was instantly fulfilled, because beer poured over him from all sides.
Harper’s place in the middle of the celebration was entirely appropriate, as was the fact that he produced the moment that sent his Phillies to the World Series. He has been the face of the franchise since 2019 when he committed to the city 13 years after owner John Middleton wrote a $330 million check to bring him to Philadelphia.
Despite many times when he may have doubted he made the right choice when he left Washington for Philadelphia as a free agent, Harper has always embraced his new home. Even as his old team, the Washington Nationals, won the 2019 World Series. Even as Philly changed GMs and managers multiple times during a turbulent first four years with the franchise — including when Rob Thomson took over for Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start this season.
“I don’t like looking back,” Harper said after the game, his MVP trophy sitting next to him. “I like to look ahead and move forward.” This game is “what have you done for me lately?”
He never lost faith, always believing in what Middleton had promised him: The organization would always put winning above all else.
Not long after Sunday’s home run, owner and star met on the field amid celebratory chaos. Their embrace lasted longer than the ball’s flight — which left the ballpark at 108.9 mph. Middleton was asked if the hug meant anything special.
“You bet it is,” he said. “$330 million later, and mutual promises that he would be committed to winning and do whatever it takes to win. He did.”
The home run that sent Philly back to the World Series for the first time since 2009 justified the Phillies’ spending on Harper, as well as the free-agent signings this spring that brought in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos — both of whom had front-row views of Harper’s explosion ; Schwarber from the dugout, and Castellanos from the deck circle. “It felt like I was having an exorcism on the dugout rail,” Schwarber said in a beer-soaked locker room. “Man, he’s nasty.”
Castellanos marveled at how different the celebration felt from when Harper hit a home run against Castellanos’ Cubs three years earlier.
“The way he ran the bases [in 2019] he was crazy and energetic,” Castellanos said. “He was the calmest person in the stadium tonight. I think that’s a lot of growth on his part.
“Looking at him [tonight] it was a big lesson for me. The way he was able to immerse himself in the moment and stay focused and calm was freaking amazing. Please use the correct words.”
This clubhouse filled with empty Budweiser and champagne bottles was always the target when Castellanos and Schwarber signed with Philly within days of each other after the lockout, giving Harper a much-needed bump around his own bat in the lineup.
For Castellanos, this is the winning team he’s been on a mission to find since being drafted by Detroit in 2010. After going 10 major league seasons without winning a postseason series, he’s enjoyed three champagne celebrations this month alone.
“We both want to win so bad,” Castellanos said when asked what he’s learned about Harper this season. “That’s one thing we have in common.”
For Schwarber, winning was never a problem. He’s done it everywhere he’s been throughout his career. Hailed as the best character in the Phillies clubhouse this postseason, Schwarber has appeared in six major league championship series for three different teams. But he was injured for the only win of his career, when the Chicago Cubs won it all in 2016. He never got a full playoff experience until now.
“It was cool,” he said Sunday between puffs on a cigar. “Being with them all year, from day one, was great.” Last time [in Chicago] I’ve been down all year.”
This was also the debut of the Phillies’ longest-tenured position player, first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins had four home runs in five games this series and might have been named MVP had it not been for Harper’s heroics – but he couldn’t bring himself to care as he celebrated his first win.
“It’s a dream,” Hoskins said, wide-eyed on the court afterward. “This organization is the one that believed in me and gave me the opportunity to impact the city of Philadelphia in any way I could.”
Harper’s arrival signaled to Hoskins that the organization was serious about winning after years of frustration. Until this season, Hoskins had never played in a postseason game, instead having to hear the glory stories about teams from the past. Every time he looked at the video scoreboard during this series, another Phillies great was watching from the stands: Ryan Howard, Jason Werth and Shane Victorino — all members of the 2008 World Series-winning team.
The dream of joining those former players as champions became a reality when Harper arrived. Hoskins wasn’t surprised that it was Harper who made the big play that finally got him there.
“That’s probably something that’s been in his head since the time he picked up the bat,” Hoskins said. “It’s been a while. He changed cities and had to get used to a new organization. For him to come through at that point is storybook stuff.”
Later, in the hallway beneath the bleachers behind home plate, Harper shared a moment with actor Miles Teller, a huge Phillies fan, while still clutching his MVP trophy. He sat in the media room and said all the right things: The team is not satisfied with just winning the pennant and has four more games to win from here. But Harper looked most comfortable in the clubhouse, allowing himself to be doused with beer as he shared the series-ending victory — instead of packing up to head across the country for Game 6.
“I didn’t want to take that flight back to San Diego,” he said. “I just didn’t want to get on a 5½-hour flight. I wanted to hang out at home and enjoy this at home with these fans and this organization and this fan base.”
The Phillies are going to the World Series because of Harper. This is his even now his city – and his heroics allowed his home fans to celebrate victory in their own stadium.