By Sam Bush
Bryce Harper dragged his sore back to the plate in his old stomping grounds, and the Phillies are still alive for a postseason spot.
About six hours before last night’s first pitch he got treatment for a bothersome back, then smacked a pair of homers to help his current club, the Phillies, keep their playoff hopes afloat and eliminate his former club, the Nationals, from playoff contention a year after they won the World Series.
With Harper leading the way, and homers from Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius and Andrew Knapp, too, the Phillies beat the Nationals 12-3.
“We’re at the part of the season where I need to be on the field,” Harper said. “Nobody wants to hear any excuses.”
The Phillies are 28-29 and third in the NL East but right in the thick of the playoff chase with three games to play in this pandemic-truncated season. They’re a half-game behind Miami for second place in the division, which earns an automatic trip to the postseason.
The loss ended Washington’s modest — albeit season-best — four-game winning streak and left its record at 23-33. San Francisco’s victory over Colorado later ruled out a postseason return for the Nationals.
“It’s really tough to come back every year,” said Nationals slugger Juan Soto, who homered in the ninth, “because everybody is expecting things from you and your team.”
Harper, who left the nation’s capital for a $330 million contract with the team up I-95 before last season, connected off Erick Fedde twice to reach 13 homers for the year — on a 94 mph sinker in the first inning and a 77 mph curveball in the sixth to make it 3-1.
Harper was walked intentionally in his other three plate appearances. He is only the fourth player in MLB history with two homers and a trio of intentional walks in a game: Albert Pujols, David Wright and Claudell Washington are the others.
Zach Eflin (4-2) earned the win by giving up three runs in eight-plus innings.
The secret to his success with his curveball?
“I stopped throwing it like a baby,” Eflin said.
Fedde (2-4) allowed three runs in seven innings. But Kyle McGowin gave up McCutchen’s solo homer, and Ryne Harper served up three-run shots by Gregorius and Knapp.
Until Wednesday, Harper was hitting just .143 in nine games against Washington this season, with zero extra-base hits, one RBI and 14 strikeouts.
Manager Joe Girardi said Harper’s back has been bothering him off and on for about four or five weeks.
“Some days are good. Some days are bad. I’ve just tried to stay in the lineup,” Harper said. “This is something that will get better in the offseason and get to full strength.”