With his 91st pitch of the game Wednesday night, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello dangled an 86.8 mile-per-hour slider over the middle of the plate.
So, Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper did what $330 million sluggers are supposed to do with hangers like that and crushed the ball into the third row of the Green Monster. The two-run, opposite-field blast gave the Phillies a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, one that they would never relinquish en route to a 5-2 victory and two-game series sweep.
“He’s the guy on the team who’s going to help carry us,’’ Phillies starter Drew Smyly said of Harper after the win. “I mean, his swing was huge.’’
The homer — his lone hit of the game — was Harper’s second-ever at Fenway Park and 28th of the season. He has now homered in four of his last seven games, racking up 12 RBI over that stretch. After signing a historic 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies in March, the 26-year-old superstar certainly travels with mighty expectations, something he was reminded of Wednesday thanks to some vocal fans behind the visitors’ dugout.
“There were some hecklers — I don’t know who they were — but they were on him pretty good,’’ Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “[His home run] was a pretty explosive moment for the dugout, very celebratory, because of that.’’
So, what exactly were the fans yelling? Harper left the clubhouse before the media entered, but an “overrated’’ chant could be heard from the press box during multiple innings. Was there anything beyond that?
“That’s not for me to discuss,’’ Kapler said, with a small smile.
Harper ultimately got the last laugh, however, handing the Red Sox their 61st loss of the season and pushing them yet another step further from a postseason berth.
“He’s good at doing that, shutting fans up,’’ Smyly said. “Especially on the road.’’
Not only did he notch the go-ahead homer, but Harper was also responsible for a critical defensive stop in the bottom of the eighth inning. With two outs, a runner on first, and the Sox trailing 4-2, catcher Christian Vazquez fired a line drive to right field that could have driven in a much-needed score. But Harper managed to cut the ball off and hold runners at second and third, thwarting Boston’s budding comeback. Pinch-hitter Chris Owings then struck out to end the inning.
“Great play, huge play, and actually one that I thought went even unnoticed in the dugout to some degree,’’ Kapler said. “That was an enormous play in the game.’’
Like the Red Sox, the Phillies need every win they can get in hopes of securing a spot in the postseason. The team is nine games back of the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves and 1½ back in the NL wild card race.
Kapler, who played three seasons with the Red Sox, acknowledged the importance of the past two wins, especially to get them in Boston.
“I remember what it’s like to play here and how difficult it is for a team to come in and beat this team in the middle of the summer, defending World Champions,’’ he said. “There’s a reason it’s packed every night.’’