Bryce Harper’s nervous system only allowed him 75 milliseconds to process Blake Snell’s 97-mph fastball. Even for the best hitter on the planet, 75 milliseconds wasn’t nearly enough. In an instant, the Great Oak fell – struck down by Snell’s errant heater to the left-thumb and with him, the cautious optimism that had been building around this Phillies ballclub. Harper, it turns out, was human after all. The magic that hung in the night sky above Petco Park was sucked out of the air, the wind taken out of this streaky club’s sails, and their uphill path to contention – to relevance – made even steeper. In baseball, 400 milliseconds is all it takes to bring a six-month long season to its knees. Some game.
Moments such as these were always going to be the determining factor of the Phillies season, however. A blown save, a walk-off hit, an errant pitch – it is on these small moments that a team on the fringe of contention makes its bones. Capitalize on them and you’re suddenly crowned better than your record. Fail to meet them and you’re a bottom feeding irrelevancy – an expensive mistake to some.
The 2022 roster is the equivalent of a jet plane held together by zip ties or a mansion built atop a sinkhole – expensive, beautiful, yet prone to collapse at any moment. Most of all, however, this team is inextricably and at times, painfully, human. For a team built on pride, it is a roster that knows more than anybody else, that they should be better. They feel the pressure of failing to live up to their lofty payroll despite trying their upmost to do so. They’re racing in vain to achieve what seems to be an unachievable standard – a playoff berth and the admiration of a city turned cynical. They’re a prideful bunch, in as many good ways as bad – their performance susceptible to emotional fluctuations in leadership. Harper’s loss will be felt heavily – but it’s not a death sentence.
It wasn’t on Saturday night, when the Phillies responded to Harper’s injury with a resilient 4-2 victory. It wasn’t on Sunday, either, during a 8-5 comeback victory where starter Kyle Gibson only pitched 2.2 innings. They rode the bullpen all weekend, shutting out the Padres over 13 innings, and taking 3 of 4 from them in the process. In their last five games, including last Wednesday’s loss to Texas, the bullpen has thrown 15.5 scoreless innings, striking out 19. Aaron Nola continues to be on fire, going 7 innings or more in his last 4 starts and lowering his ERA to 2.98. Kyle Schwarber is even hotter, hitting .283 in the month of June with 10 home runs and 4 RBIs in Sunday’s game. Scuffling slugger Nick Castellanos finally broke out on Sunday as well – against the crafty Yu Darvish no less – a potential spark to a hopeful hot streak. Third baseman Alec Bohm, hitting .305 in the past 15 days, posted 3 doubles in the series, going 5 for 16, and raised his average to .259.
These achievements may seem minor compared to the scale of Harper’s injury, but are significant nonetheless. For as doomed as this expensive team appears to be and as steep as their path to contention is, they have shown us one thing – that they’re going to fight. With their backs against the wall, what else is there to do?