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Two nights after calling out himself and his teammates and saying the whole lot of them needed to ramp up the urgency and stoke up the offense, Bryce Harper backed it all up in the Phillies' 9-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at cold and blustery Citizens Bank Park on Friday night.
Harper keyed a six-run second inning with a two-run double and was on base via a walk when J.T. Realmuto clubbed a two-run home run in the seventh.
The win improved the Phillies to 7-6 after a poor road trip that saw them lose five of six games in Atlanta and New York. The six runs that the Phils scored in the second inning were two more than they scored in three games in New York, all losses.
This was a breakout that the Phils needed.
"Being able to come out here and do the things that we were able to do tonight, just put the ball in play, have fun, enjoy what we were doing, it's a great game, it's a lot of fun to play," Harper said afterwards. "You guys know, our lineup, when we're hitting on all cylinders, is a lot of fun to watch. I'm excited to go into tomorrow and hopefully take this momentum as a team and do our thing."
Zach Eflin played the role of mound stopper after the Phillies had lost three straight. The right-hander featured a strong five-pitch mix, took a shutout into the eighth, walked none and struck out six.
Harper loved what he saw.
"Wow," he said. "I'm never shocked when he does that. I think people that see him every fifth day know he has it in him. The stuff is there. The way he goes out there and competes, when he's got that sinker working, that slider is absolutely disgusting, it's fun to watch. He's always a competitor. He wants to be good. He's going to be a guy for us."
Eflin has allowed just three runs in 14-plus innings at home this season.
"He was great tonight," manager Joe Girardi said. "We needed that."
After Wednesday night's third straight loss in New York, Harper was critical of himself and the team's offense, especially the high number of strikeouts. The Phils struck out 14 times in that game and Harper racked up three of them.
On Friday night, the Phils cut that number of strikeouts in half.
Maybe Harper's pep talk worked.
Girardi sure liked it.
"I like it because I think it does resonate when it comes from a guy like Bryce," Girardi said. "He's not one to necessarily sugarcoat it. He included himself. He had the big double and swung the bat extremely well tonight. But I like (that Harper spoke out). I think that sense of urgency is important as we found out last year, so I like it."
Avoiding strikeouts and putting the ball in play helped the Phils send 12 men to the plate in the second inning. It could easily have been a 1-2-3 inning, but the Cardinals infield failed to make two plays on difficult but not impossible ground balls and centerfielder Dylan Carlson lost a ball in the wind and twilight that fell in for an RBI double.
"It's a lot more enjoyable when you're scoring runs," Girardi said. "We talk about it all the time. Whenever you don't score runs, a team looks flat, there's just not much going on. So it was a different atmosphere because we swung the bats better and we took advantage of their miscues."
Struggling leadoff man Andrew McCutchen, who entered the game hitting .139, drove in three runs with a pair of hits.
"He's been through tough times, but I don't care how many times you've been through them, they're no fun to go through," Girardi said. "He's really important to our offense in leading off and getting on base, driving in runs. It was a good night for him. I think it was an important night for him."
If it weren't for the wind, Harper would have had an even bigger night than he did. In the first and fourth innings, he hit balls to the wall in right-center and center that came off the bat at 109 and 108 mph, respectively. On a still night, both balls might have landed in the Italian market.
"On a normal night he's probably got two home runs and a double," Girardi said. "But not tonight. The weather will change. I like the way he swung the bat."
After the wind knocked down his drive to right-center in the first inning, Harper stood at first base with a look of amusement and bemusement on his face.
"I came to the Bank to hit homers and it’s just not happening," said Harper, who has two homers, both on the road, this season.
"That wind is brutal. But there's nothing I can do about it. Put the bat on the ball the best way I can, control what I can, and Mother Nature's not one of them.
"But I feel good. I have felt good in the box. It's just getting pitches over the plate to do damage with and then take my walks. I really liked my (walk in the seventh) actually, some close pitches there that I didn't swing at. I need to get back into that rhythm of taking pitches, hitting the ones over the plate. These last couple series I know I could have walked 10 to 11 times easily, but I just wasn't doing that. I need to get back into that, doing damage over the plate and having better at-bats, seeing pitches and getting on base by walking and not just by hits all the time."