At times in his career, Harper was the first to leave the field, sprinting to right field. But as Wheeler took his first steps, Harper nodded to the 23-year-old, who skipped to the left, apparently not getting the hint. So Harper gestured with his glove, signaling to the kid who had started the season in Class AA that he should feel free to lead them.
Center fielder Johan Rojas obeyed, jogging first and signaling to the sky above his first postseason night as some of baseball’s biggest stars followed him. Later, it was Rojas who singled in the third inning and then scored on an Alec Bohm double to give the Phillies their first run of the postseason. They defeated the Miami Marlins 4-1 in the first game of this best-of-three matchup and are one win away from a spot in the NL Division Series.
“He told me to go out first and enjoy the game,” Rojas later said through team interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “He told me to enjoy it, have fun.”
Harper later said that he did not single out Rojas, that he stood on the top step with a message to everyone, reminding them of things they had talked about before – a pre-game ritual that he admitted had never carried out. Harper was once the youngest man in the dugout, the eager kid on a Washington Nationals team full of veterans who made a point of reminding him of his place. Now he’s a father, a veteran, a man others look to for advice.
And when asked before the game what he would like to pass on to Rojas or the other rookies on the Phillies’ otherwise very experienced roster, Harper seems to want something different for them.
“I think the biggest thing is just letting them be themselves – that’s all. We let them know that we love them and want them to be the best players they can, no matter what,” Harper said. “We want them to be themselves and play with that passion, with the fire that they want to play with.”
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Rojas and reliever Orion Kerkering, drafted just last year, are one of the reasons manager Rob Thomson insists this year’s Phillies team is even better than the one that advanced to the World Series last year. Rojas made 149 at-bats in the majors, batted .302 and somehow accumulated 2.4 wins above replacement in that 59-game span (per Baseball-Reference). Kerkering pitched just three innings in the majors after being called up in late September. He struck out six batters and will almost certainly play a major role in the Phillies’ relief efforts no matter how long they play this month. Another young outfielder, 24-year-old Cristian Pache, delivered a game-winning hit as the Phillies scored twice in the fourth.
“From the moment I got here in this clubhouse, they welcomed me with open arms,” said Rojas, who showed off a scraped knee after the game only to have teammate Brandon Marsh come over to tell him that he was sexy, and then jokingly helped wipe his face before the newbie faced the media. “It’s hard not to play hard for a group of players who have been so welcoming to you.”
The Marlins didn’t go into this game with the expectations that the Phillies had. Their leader, second baseman Luis Arraez, sprained his left ankle in a spectacular fall during infield practice in mid-September, just when the Marlins were least able to cope with the loss of the NL batting champion. On Tuesday, he started in the infield for the first time since September 23rd. They weathered the absences in recent weeks of Sandy Alcantara, a 2022 Cy Young Award winner, who suffered from forearm problems, and Eury Pérez, a future star who had sacroiliac joint problems. When Arraez’s ankle gave out, the Marlins were just a half-game away from the final wild-card spot. Two weeks later, they were booed at Citizens Bank Park, baseball’s highest honor at that time of year.
“That’s nice. “It’s postseason,” Arraez said before the game. “Thank God we’re here.”
The Marlins are grateful to be here. Maybe that means they lack the desperation needed to win at this time of year. Perhaps that meant they didn’t feel as much pressure as the Phillies, who appear better equipped for a strong run in October.
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Whatever the Marlins were thinking, they probably couldn’t hear it amid a crowd at Citizens Bank Park that picked up where it left off during the Phillies’ high-decibel playoff run last season. Injured fan favorite Rhys Hoskins limped to the mound to throw out a celebratory first pitch. Second baseman Bryson Stott ended the first inning with a diving stop on a 104 mph ground ball from Josh Bell. Kyle Schwarber hit the same ball in the bottom half, watched it go through, and then headed in the third as Trea Turner scored a brace. At the moment, it seemed as if the Marlins had encountered a force greater than any nice feeling they might have had within them to fight back against.
Then suddenly it stopped. Bohm hit a fly ball to right that Jesús Sánchez caught as he ran to the foul line. The Phillies held Schwarber to third. Sánchez has an elite arm and Schwarber is far from a burner, so it made sense. But the game wasn’t easy and the throw he delivered was well over the third base line. Schwarber would have scored. But because Harper struck out and JT Realmuto hit a fly ball up the middle, he never did.
But when the Marlins had some momentum, they didn’t run with it, allowing Rojas to get the Phillies back on track two innings later. Pache drove in a run in the fourth. And in the eighth, when Nick Castellanos drove a ball into the left field corner, it was the 30-year-old Harper who looked like the teenage version, racing through third base coach Dusty Wathan’s stop sign, his helmet long gone , to score the insurance run that sealed everything.
The Phillies have a knack for catching fire. This year they seem to have even more talent.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/10/03/phillies-marlins-game-1-wild-card/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage The Phillies overtake the Marlins and open the NL wild card game with a 4-1 win