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‘How long you been planning that?’ — Phillies react to Harper’s ‘iconic’ moment



‘How long you been planning that?’ — Phillies react to Harper’s ‘iconic’ moment originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

LONDON — Bryce Harper was in the training room early Saturday afternoon when he came up with the celebration.

If he homered, he told the training staff, he’d break out a soccer slide after crossing home plate.

And of course he homered, like he does seemingly every time the Phillies are on a new stage, a national stage or the day after he’s been thrust into the spotlight for some sort of on-field controversy.

There wasn’t just the novelty of Saturday being the Phillies’ first-ever game outside of North America, it was also the 15-year anniversary of Harper’s appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old.

His fourth-inning solo shot at London Stadium put the Phillies on the board and started the game-changing six-run rally they rode to a 7-2 win.

A few steps away from the dugout, he surprised his teammates with the soccer slide and they erupted.

“Iconic,” winning pitcher Ranger Suarez said.

Harper’s only fear was getting his knees caught on the turf, a fear shared by manager Rob Thomson when he saw it. The worst-case scenario was avoided — boy, would that have been a disaster — and it instead became a moment Phillies fans will remember for a very long time.

“How long have you been planning that, buddy?” Nick Castellanos said he asked Harper in the dugout.

“He’s a showman, it doesn’t surprise me. Give the European fans something.”

Every team wants to win every game, but the London Series wasn’t just another for Harper. He said Friday that this weekend would be just as much about the fans and helping grow the sport of baseball as it would the Phillies trying to beat the Mets.

Safe to say he converted some Brits by giving them an up-close taste of the highlights and swagger they’ve seen from afar.

“It was fun, being able to put people on their feet and put joy in people. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “As a team, we did a great job of that. We all had a really good time out there.

“Jump on the wagon. Come on, we’ll take everybody. I don’t care where you’re from, who you are, what you do, I’ll take anybody you got. You want to wear Phillies stuff, you’re part of our family, part of Philadelphia. Just make sure you show up.”

The Phillies showed up in that fourth inning, batting around and rallying for five more runs after Harper’s homer.

There were pivotal plate appearances from Alec Bohm (single), Bryson Stott (walk) and Edmundo Sosa (RBI single).

Then there was the blow Whit Merrifield had been awaiting for months. Sean Manaea threw him a middle-in, 86 mph changeup and Merrifield sent it over the left-field wall for a three-run homer.

Thomson said he saw the blood rush back into Merrifield’s face after the swing.

“It felt good to drive some runs in. Felt like I left the whole Premier League on base these last couple months,” Merrifield said. “Finally made a good swing on a good pitch and did something good for the team. It’s what I’m here to do. Haven’t done a great job of that so far. But we are the best team in baseball on a historic run so it’s a good time to be going through what I’m going through.

“It’s just the Phillies. Our lineup’s deep 1 through 13, not just 1 through 9. It’s almost an expectation with our offense. It was cool doing it here with the new atmosphere. A lot of Philly fans came here but there’s a lot of fans that aren’t familiar with the game as much as Americans are. Put on a good show for them, there was good energy going on today.”

Merrifield and Taijuan Walker have been the primary punching bags for Phillies fans so far in a season where almost everything else has gone right. Merrifield entered the day hitting .171 with just four RBI, but he is quite obviously a better player than that. He began the season a career .284 hitter with only one season below .272.

“You always hope something like that can get you going,” he said. “Kinda even more than the home run, what I’ve been searching for is taking that sinker and hitting it to right field. Hopefully, I can gain some momentum from that. There’s a lot of season left, and really, the season starts in October, so that’s what the end goal is.”

The Phillies have thoroughly enjoyed their time in London, with some visiting famous tourist attractions, some finding highly regarded eateries, some checking out the Philly-centric sports bar Passyunk Ave and others just relaxing. Early Saturday afternoon, however, Kyle Schwarber said they were out of sightseeing mode and ready to go win a ballgame.

They did, for the 45th time against 19 losses. They’ll enter Sunday with at least an eight-game lead over the Braves. They’re as far over .500 as they’ve been since the final day of the 2011 season. They’re on pace to eclipse that team’s franchise-best 102-60 record by a dozen wins.

East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, Europe, it hasn’t really mattered for baseball’s deepest roster.

“I think the Phillies, just being able to have the moments,” Harper said. “Being able to put on a good show and let them know the emotion of baseball and the fans of baseball. I think Philadelphia and the fans in Philadelphia rival a football stadium the way it electrifies you and the way you play. It’s just so much fun to come over the pond and be able to do this in front of a fanbase. I just feel like this team really just enjoys the moment.”

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