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A Homers-Only Diet Suits Bryce Harper Just Fine

Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies salutes the crowd after the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park.
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Before the Phillies played the Reds on Tuesday, Bryce Harper had two walks and five strikeouts on the season, a tumble over a dugout railing, and literally nothing else, which worked out to a clean .154 OPS (not adjusted for dugout railing tumbles). This was not what one would consider a good start to the season, but it did provide a valuable opportunity to learn how much one man could raise his slash line in one game.

As valuable context for those who are not yet fortunate enough to live in Philadelphia, yesterday was a day so miserable that when the barista at my local coffee shop asked me how I was doing, I said, in a remarkable feat of social engagement, "I'm doing good! I mean, not really—I mean, sort of, y'know," and made a vague gesture with my right hand that tried to get at the general premise of I haven't had any coffee yet, and also, the weather. It was rainy and cold, then misty and cold. A handful of Phillies wore balaclavas while playing, and Garrett Stubbs deserved a special mention when he took a foul ball to the groin.

So it was both aesthetically and emotionally satisfying when Harper, down two strikes against Graham Ashcraft and balaclava'd up, smashed a home run to center field in his first plate appearance of the game. In his second plate appearance, Harper saw one pitch, a slider toward the bottom of the zone, and lined that to right field for a home run. Not yet satisfied with taunting a man named Graham, he nearly hit a double in the bottom of the sixth inning, if not for a great diving catch by Will Benson. Harper was upset about the last plate appearance, as he should have been: Nearly hitting a double? What kind of loser behavior was that? Harper already hit two home runs and he was about to settle for a measly double? Thank god Will Benson made that diving catch! Otherwise Harper would come into the 2024 season believing that a double was an acceptable result for a plate appearance when home runs existed.

Instead, Harper came into the seventh inning with his head screwed on straight, though the rest of the Phillies hadn't gotten the memo. Brandon Marsh hit a single (boo) and then advanced to second on an Elly De La Cruz throwing error that the De La Cruz heads shouldn't be too upset about. It was his second throwing error of the day, but cool guys frequently make errors—it is their wont and their right. Garrett Stubbs bunted into a pop-up. Kyle Schwarber hit a single. Trea Turner walked to load the bases. Pathetic!

Brent Suter pitched to Harper like he was intent on walking Harper too—no one can really blame him in that position, as the Reds just got another reliever warming up in the bullpen. But Harper had learned his lesson. With the count full, Suter threw Harper a low and inside sinker, and between the lesson learned and Harper's natural inevitability, the end result was the only possible outcome: a grand slam.

MLB's chosen thumbnail for this video invites some level of interrogation. A winter landscape, with a word art-y BRYCE; a full-body shot of a hyped up Bryce Harper in the center while a giant, mellower Bryce looks on from behind the mountains, looming peaceably. What does this mean? Must it mean anything at all? Let us remember the words of Archibald MacLeish this day: "A poem should not mean / But be."

This was a much needed breath of fresh air for the Phillies, who with a shaky bullpen and without Harper's bat, were 1-3 to start the season. Not only did Harper finally get his first three hits of the season—all of them homers, as it should be—they also welcomed the re-debut of Ricardo Pinto, who last played in MLB in 2019 and last played for the Phillies in 2017, when he had a 7.89 ERA in 25 games played. Pinto reminded us all of the beauty of a long reliever. According to Matt Gelb, Pinto received the call from the Phillies at noon, got stuck in traffic on his way from Lehigh Valley, arrived at the ballpark sometime in the fourth inning, popped in to say hi to manager Rob Thomson, and then pitched a four-inning save, which is an all-time performance that frankly matches Harper's.

But back to the first question: How much can one man raise his slash line in one game? This, of course, comes with the natural caveat of early-season sample size, but the early season is good for nothing except small sample size observations. Harper came in slashing .000/.154/.000. He left the game slashing .200/.294/.800 for a 1.084 OPS in 15 plate appearances. If Bryce Harper gets a single hit this season that isn't a home run, it's time to cut him from the team.

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