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Bryce Harper's monster night helps Phillies even series with Reds

The game started in a drizzle that wafted lazily through the Citizens Bank Park lights. And, honestly, there was some skepticism that it should have been started at all.

The forecast for Tuesday night was dicey. The conditions were far from fan friendly; the turnstile count appeared to be less than half of the announced crowd of 28,119, which is based on tickets sold, not seats occupied.

Then there was this. The first four games of the season had been bullpen-busters. A postponement would have given the relievers a chance to regroup.

Just under three hours later, after the Phillies had salted away a 9-4 win over the Reds, the conditions were still dank. But most were glad the game had been played. None were happier, though, than Bryce Harper, Spencer Turnbull and Ricardo Pinto.

Harper, who was 0-for-2024 coming in, hit a towering home run to center in his first at bat. He lined a homer to right his second time up. In his third at bat he was robbed of extra bases and an RBI when Cincinnati centerfielder Will Benson snagged his sinking line drive with a diving catch.

Then he put an exclamation point on the whole shebang with a grand slam in the seventh that broke the game open. It was the second three-homer game of his career. The first came for the Nationals, against Miami, on May 6, 2015. . .the year he went on to win his first MVP Award. His six RBI was a career high. Along the way, still just 31, he scored the 1,000th run of his career.

It felt great,” the first baseman said. “I wasn’t really sure if we were going to even play this game, obviously. Any time you’re going out and playing in that cold weather it’s not very much fun. But getting the first one out of the way and getting those runs on the board was really big for us.”

Still, Harper said, he’s not satisfied. “You get two, you want three, You hit three, you want to hit four,” he explained. “Right? That’s the mindset. It’s what I expect out of myself and I know my teammates and the fan base do as well.”

Said manager Rob Thomson: “I don’t really get concerned with Bryce. He’s a great hitter. That’s what great players do. They have big nights like that. And we needed it.”

Turnbull was still unsigned into February when the Phillies added him for rotation depth. He was making his first big league start in almost a year only because Taijuan Walker is on the disabled list.

He pitched five shutout innings, allowing just one unearned run. It was the first time he hadn’t allowed an earned run since pitching a no-hitter for the Tigers in in 2021 and his seven strikeouts were the most since he had nine in that game.

“I was getting it over the plate and I was happy with that, especially as cold as it was out there,” he said. “It was awesome. I loved every minute of it. Not ideal conditions. The weather was definitely weather. But it was a lot of fun.”

The feel-good story of the night, though, was Pinto. Originally signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 2011, he then went on to pitch in the White Sox, Rays and Tigers organizations. . .not to mention South Korea, China, Venezuela and Mexico.

Now 30, he woke up Tuesday morning with the rest of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Rochester. He learned that his contract was being selected, but no suitable flights were available. So he got a car and started driving. “Like in American Legion,” manager Rob Thomson said with a smile.

Rain and heavy traffic on the Northeast Extension kept him from arriving until the fourth inning. Which was just in time to relieve Turnbull in the sixth and then finish the game to earn his first career save in his first big league game since 2019. He also struck out four, matching his career high set in 2017.

“The way it worked out was exactly what we needed,” Thomson said. “The scenario was just perfect for us.”

Four Cincinnati errors and Brandon Marsh’s second homer of the season also contributed.

Said Pinto, through an interpreter: “It was a long day, but my mind was ready for the opportunity. Now I feel like I’m more mature, particularly on the mental side. I knew they were going to give me an opportunity and I had to take advantage of it. I didn’t have the maturity that I have no. It’s about getting control of the mental side.

“I think I’m more relaxed now when I’m pitching. Before little things could get to me and frustrate me.”

“I just wanted to do my job and seize the moment for the Phillies. I always thought I’d get back. I never gave up on this. I feel that I’m mentally in a better position than I was before.

When it was all over it was hard to recall how tenuous the Phillies’ situation seemed before the game with bullpen stalwarts Jose Alvarado, Matt Strahm, Jeff Hoffman and Yunior Marte likely unavailable. Before Connor Brogdon was designated for assignment, it appeared that Thomson probably had only Seranthony Dominguez, Gregory Soto and Nick Nelson to choose from once Turnbull departed.

In a simpler time in baseball, there would have been a just-as-simple solution. Say, for example, the Dodgers were at Connie Mack Stadium with Sandy Koufax scheduled to pitch the final game of the series. It wouldn’t be unheard of for the home team to spot a small cloud somewhere over Mullica Hill and use that as a justification for calling the whole thing off.

That’s about as out of fashion now as the Boston Braves and Wrigley Field without lights and that’s probably for the best.

Besides, what happened Tuesday night is another reminder that you never really know what’s going to happen. Which, after all, is why they play the games.

UP NEXT: The starting time of Wednesday’s series finale against the Reds has been pushed back three hours to 4:05 p.m. Weather permitting, RHP Frankie Montas (1-0. 0.00) will face Phillies ace Zack Wheeler (0-0, 0.00).

If the game can’t be played, it’s possible that it could be made up on Thursday, an open date for both teams.