PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper’s funny bone — the one he clutched on his right elbow before the Philadelphia Phillies clinched another berth in the NL Championship Series — gave the team, the franchise, even a city, a fleeting scare.
The most valuable of all the Phillies, Harper insisted he was fine. Honest.
The slugger soon stripped off his jersey and soaked in one more postseason bubbly bash inside the clubhouse, where his teammates had a T-shirt waiting he could wear for the ride home.
On the front, “ Atta Boy Harper.”
On the back, “He wasn’t supposed to hear it.”
First, the Phillies delivered a second straight KO of the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series. Then they hit ’em with a punchline on the way out of town.
Nick Castellanos became the first player to hit multiple homers in consecutive postseason games, leading Philadelphia to a 3-1 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night that ushered Atlanta out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
“I just think there are so many guys that have been in these situations, not just now, but their whole lives,” Harper said. “We’ve got some really good players. I think we just kind of vibe together. We vibe well here. It’s a lot of fun.”
Matt Strahm struck out pinch-hitter Vaughn Grissom with runners at the corners to clinch the series and send the Phillies rushing the field in wild celebration. Fireworks went off at a frenzied Citizens Bank Park and the reigning National League champions were set to sing “ Dancing On My Own ” and uncork the Broad Street Bubbly.
Harper grabbed his surgically repaired right elbow after a collision with Matt Olson in the eighth. Olson’s left knee clipped Harper’s elbow on a play at first base that ended the inning. The two-time NL MVP flexed his elbow after a quick examination and finished the game.
Trea Turner singled twice, doubled and hit a solo homer in the fifth for a 2-1 lead as the Phillies make another run at their first World Series title since 2008.
They head next week to an all-wild card NLCS and will play the Arizona Diamondbacks, making their first trip since 2007. Game 1 is Monday in Philadelphia.
The Phillies were thrilled to return home after a Game 2 collapse in Atlanta ended with Harper getting doubled up on the bases to end a 5-4 loss. In the jubilant Braves clubhouse after the win, shortstop Orlando Arcia cracked, “ attaboy, Harper,” a wisecrack he later acknowledged he never intended for the Phillies to hear.
Harper hit two homers in Game 3 and stared down Arcia each time as he trotted around second base.
After Game 4, the Phillies had their fun, spraying Harper with beer and gleefully yelling, “Attaboy, Harper! Attaboy!”
“Watching when they celebrated when they doubled off Harper, and seeing everybody jump around and dance on the field,” Castellanos said, “that was a good feeling to get coming back and playing baseball here.”
The Phillies withstood a pair of scares in once again closing out the NL East champion Braves, who had the best record in baseball this season at 104-58. Philadelphia went 90-72, finishing 14 games back of Atlanta for the second year in a row.
Before the collision involving Harper, rookie center fielder Johan Rojas made a huge defensive play with the bases loaded to end the seventh, running down a deep drive to left-center and denying Ronald Acuña Jr. an extra-base hit that could have put Atlanta ahead.
“It takes a while to get over something like this after the year we had, the expectation we have here,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We got beat by a really good club that has a penchant for this time of year.”
Wearing throwback powder blue jerseys and maroon hats as they do every Thursday at home, the Phillies took the same path as a year ago to reach another NLCS: first a Wild Card Series sweep; then they won Game 1 in Atlanta and lost Game 2. Like last season, the Phillies returned home and scored six runs in the third inning of a Game 3 rout.
Then a repeat of a barrage of homers that signaled a knockout victory over their NL East rival, a year after the Braves won 101 regular-season games only to get handed an early playoff exit by Philadelphia.
“The only thing that I can say is that I’m learning that the season and the postseason are completely different,” Castellanos said.
Atlanta will surely find little consolation in not being the only regular-season heavyweight already out of these playoffs. The teams with the five best regular-season records — the Braves, Orioles (101 wins), Dodgers (100), Rays (99) and Brewers (92) — all failed to reach the LCS.
But this night belonged to Castellanos, the All-Star right fielder whose production tailed off in the second half only to rally with his son sitting in the front row for the postseason.
A night after he hit two homers in Game 3, Castellanos became the first Phillies slugger, heck, any slugger in baseball history, to drill multiple homers in consecutive playoff games.
His second one ended the night for Braves starter and 20-game winner Spencer Strider. Castellanos chased Strider in the sixth with a 415-foot moonshot to left that sent 45,831 fans at Citizens Bank Park into a towel-waving frenzy. Castellanos soaked in the cheers during the pitching change; he poked his head out of the dugout and raised his arms as Phillies fans grew louder.
Castellanos continued to wave his arms toward the crowd as he headed to right field in the seventh with the Phillies up 3-1.
“Whenever you see that many people giving you an acknowledgment in a positive favor, I mean, there’s not really a lot of words that are going to be able to capture that feeling. But it’s special,” he said.
Manager Rob Thomson again turned to starter Ranger Suárez to keep the Phillies in the game until turning it over to a parade of hard-throwers in the bullpen. The plan worked once this series already. Suárez allowed just one hit through 3 2/3 innings in his Game 1 start before Thomson handed the ball to six relievers in a 3-0 win. The plan in this one, get Suárez at least twice through the lineup — and the pitcher often overshadowed by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola succeeded.
The hard-throwing lefty buzzed through three hitless innings — hitting 95.3 mph when he caught Sean Murphy looking to end the second — before Austin Riley homered in the fourth for a 1-0 Braves lead.
The early homer, the early deficit, rarely troubles these Phillies. They wait for their long-ball heavy lineup to deliver and — for the second straight game — it was Castellanos who tied it 1-all on a solo shot. Castellanos socked one inside the left-field foul pole, flipped his bat, and pointed to his young son, Liam, as he crossed the plate.
“I think when you’re hitting two homers every day, you can do whatever the hell you want,” Turner said.
Liam was a fixture at the ballpark for most of the summer and tagged along with Castellanos from the clubhouse to the All-Star Game. Liam had been absent from the ballpark once school resumed, but his dad has gushed about his presence this postseason.
Father, son — and all of Philadelphia — get at least one more round together.
The Phillies stay home and get three days off before the NLCS opener.
The Braves have lost 10 of their last 11 elimination games and will ponder what went wrong after another empty postseason.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb