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October 11, 2023

Instant observations: Bryce Harper hits two homers, Phillies one win from closing out Braves

The Phillies hit six home runs in a bashing of the Braves Wednesday night.

Bryce Harper took it personally. So did his teammates.

That's what happened Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.

Harper hit two home runs in Game 3 after Orlando Arcia made fun of him after Game 2 and the ballgame wasn't even close, as the Phillies' offense pounded Atlanta 10-2 — thanks to six home runs — to take a 2-1 NLDS series lead.

The Phillies can advance to their second straight National League Championship series with a win tomorrow night in South Philly. But before that, here's a look at the good, the bad and a nod to the Phillies' ridiculous fans from a Game 3 that belongs up there with some great postseason wins:

The good

• Man, if anyone wants to lose their hearing just spend 30 seconds sitting in Citizens Bank Park when someone hits a home run in a playoff game. South Jersey needed earplugs in the bottom of the third, when Nick Castellanos blasted a homer to the left-field stands to tie a slow-paced game at 1-apiece. (Castellanos added a second homer in the eighth for good measure).

• But it got even louder. Because Bryce Harper did this:

Maybe don't trash talk this guy? Harper's three-run bomb put Philly up 4-1 and the frenzied crowd was probably loud enough to reach the Jersey shore. 

You probably want to see it again.

Harper hit a second home run in the fifth inning — his first career two-homer game in the playoffs — a solo shot to center that put the Phils ahead 7-1. 

It might sound like hyperbole, but if Harper keeps this up he could honestly become the most impressive postseason performer in the history of this city. The homers Harper hit Wednesday put him at nine in 22 postseason games (a 66 home run regular season pace) and put him at 17 RBI (133 regular season pace) as a Phillie. Entering the game he already was hitting .347 as a Phillie in the playoffs. The 2022 NLCS MVP should just be walked at this point.

• The memorable third inning didn't relent, as a two-run double plated two more runs off the bat of J.T. Realmuto, who also has been red hot this postseason. 

The Phillies blew a 4-0 lead in Atlanta, but at home in front of the Philly faithful, it felt impossible for the Phillies to blow this 7-1 lead.

• It was almost an afterthought after the monster home runs in Game 3 but Aaron Nola chugged along and put together 5.2 very solid innings, striking out nine Braves and scattering six hits, one run and one walk. He pitched out of a few jams and didn't let an early hiccup and deficit bother him. Say what you want about his mundane regular season in 2023, but the one-two punch of Zack Wheeler and Nola could still be World Series championship caliber. 

• Trea Turner, and Brandon Marsh also went deep late in the game, tallying six in total for the Phils. Fans might be thinking "save some for tomorrow night," but they were more likely thinking "give me all the home runs."

• One interesting scheduling note. The Phillies — who entered the playoffs as a Wild Card — have a very possible shot at having home-field advantage in both the NLCS and World Series. If the Diamondbacks handle the Dodgers, the 4-seeded Phillies would host Arizona in Game 1 and 2 next Monday and Tuesday — and then in games 6 and 7 in necessary. 

If, then, the Astros handle the Twins and later the Rangers in the ALCS, the Phillies would have home-field advantage in a rematch with Houston. That, in addition to the other home-field advantage on display in Game 3.

The bad

• Ronald Acuña Jr. is really freaking good at baseball. In the third inning, he turned a single into a double with his speed, and then scored from second on a weakly thrown ball from Nick Castellanos in right field on a single from Ozzie Albies. He's a one-man manufacturing plant. In the regular season, he led the entire major league in runs (149), hits (217), stolen bases (73), and on-base percentage (.416). That before even acknowledging his 41 homers and 106 RBI. 

Making it to the NLCS with this version of Acuña in the other dugout would be quite an accomplishment. 

• Rob Thomson knows what kind of manager he is, and he's the kind of man who'd rather be decisive and wrong than regret not acting. It's worked for him more than it's failed him, but it did nearly bite him in the butt as he pulled Nola with a man on and two outs, calling on lefty Matt Strahm to face Eddie Rosario. Rosario walked and Arcia drove in a run — Nola's run — before getting out of the inning with no further harm.

It's the postseason and the Phillies have a good bullpen. They're going to be playing to lefty-righty matchups all October and more often than not the numbers say it will work out. Still, we do remember him pulling Wheeler for Alvarado in Game 6 of the World Series last year. 

The Philly fans

• It comes as no shock that Philadelphia sports fans are knowledgeable. And loud. They booed the hell out of Acuña Jr., and Arcia for basically all of their at bats. Acuña is the classic, really good, young and cocky player that everyone in Philly loves to hate while Arcia took a shot at Harper Monday. The Philly faithful wasn't cool with that.

Harper obviously wasn't cool with it either, as we saw with his unforgettable homers.

I always thought that booing was too aggressive from a home team. It fuels the fire in the best players. Guys like Tom Brady and Magic Johnson, all the greats really get going from some intense booing. And you saw what the subtle jab from Arcia did for Harper — who will probably deny it. His Phillies teammates took that bulletin board material and ran with it. 

No matter, the Phillies fans did their job as they always do — as the scoreboard showed after the last out Wednesday.

• How do we feel about sarcastic tomahawk chops?

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