Bryce Harper’s Most Valuable Arm Saves Phillies After Offense Rallies Late

PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The first five-plus innings of the Phillies’ series finale with the Orioles had a Groundhog Day feel to it.

There’s a famous line from the movie in which Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, asks the following:

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” 

The line perfectly encapsulates the essence of Phillies baseball. It also perfectly encapsulated watching the Phillies offense again struggle early on with baseball’s worst pitching staff.

For five innings, the offense was as agitating as a Ned Ryerson street greeting. It had no answers for Baltimore left-hander Keegan Akin, who entered the night with a 6.93 ERA in 89 2/3 innings pitched this season.

As was the case for Murray in the film, there did not appear to be a tomorrow for the Phillies either.

But Andrew McCutchen came to the plate with two away in the sixth and changed that familiar sinking feeling — that it was the same thing all over again — with one swing of the bat.

BING!

McCutchen’s 25th homer of the season put the Phillies on the board and helped spark a rally that ensures they will do no worse than end the night still three games behind Atlanta with 10 games left to play. It also helped ensure Zack Wheeler’s six innings of one-run baseball would not go to waste.

Of course, Wheeler was denied his 15th win of the season despite scattering just four hits and two walks in a nine-strikeout effort.

Phillies reliever Sam Coonrod couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the seventh, but the offense would respond in the bottom of the frame by choking out a pair of decisive runs.

A Matt Vierling leadoff single and Brad Miller double set up a one-out sacrifice fly from Jean Segura. Following an intentional walk to Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto made the Orioles pay for a second straight night with an RBI single that gave the Phillies a two-run cushion.

Gifted a second lead to protect, the Phillies’ bullpen would bend to the brink but not break. Reliever Cam Bedrosian yielded a run in the eighth, but he was saved from further damage thanks to a perfect throw by Harper that nailed down the would-be tying run at the plate.

The throw, which preceded a 32-pitch ninth inning ordeal by closer Ian Kennedy, helped secure yet another win that fell well short of inspiring.

The throw was just the latest example of why Harper, who had a single and two walks in four plate appearances, is the current betting favorite to win the National League MVP Award. Harper and his MLB-best 1.052 OPS should win it.

As for the rest of his teammates, the outlook isn’t quite as promising. Last week, I wrote the following:

At this point, not even the incompetence of the participants vying for the National League’s second wild card spot could fool the biggest optimist into thinking otherwise.

So please, let’s stop with the out-of-town scoreboard updates. No more check-ins on the Reds, Cardinals, and Mets. And for the love of God, blast all strength of schedule reminders — or mentions of the three remaining games with the Braves in Atlanta later this month — into the sun.

Of course, the Cardinals haven’t lost since. But to the Phillies’ credit, they have done just enough to justify keeping an eye on the Braves, at least for the time being.

So, now what?

To bring the Groundhog Day theme full circle, I’ll close with the same line I used last night:

“So, they have a chance. At least for one more day.”

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