PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper celebrated his 31st birthday with a bang — a 420-foot homer on the first pitch he saw in the NL Championship Series.
That merited a special tribute. As he rounded third base, the Philadelphia Phillies slugger concocted a celebration on the fly: Harper held up three fingers on his left hand and one on his right and pretended to blow them out like candles on a cake as he crossed the plate.
“Sometimes I just do stuff, and that felt right,” Harper said. “So I thought I would step on home plate and do that.”
Harper keeps rising to the moment in October, helping the Phillies take another step toward winning their first World Series title since 2008.
The two-time NL MVP launched his 10th postseason homer with Philadelphia, Kyle Schwarber hit his first of this postseason and Nick Castellanos also went deep again to power the Phillies past the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 in Game 1 of the NLCS on Monday night.
Harper also walked, scored twice and knocked in two runs to send the Phillies to their 10th straight home playoff win against NL teams.
“This guy, he is looking for the moment, and he wants it,” Schwarber said. “He’s doing such an unbelievable job for us. Talking about when he is going up to the plate, you are just thinking that he is going to do something special every single time. Can that be unfair to have an expectation on a player? Sure. But that’s what everyone is thinking when you’re in the dugout. Man, what’s this guy going to do next?”
The same could be said about Zack Wheeler after another stellar postseason outing.
Wheeler struck out eight in six innings to help the defending National League champions win their seventh Game 1 of the last two postseasons. Wheeler sawed two bats in half during the first two innings, leaving the Diamondbacks with more pieces of busted lumber than hits through five.
José Alvarado got four clutch outs on 15 pitches and Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for the save.
Arizona was stuck with its first loss of the playoffs after ripping off five straight wins against the Brewers and Dodgers.
The Diamondbacks were simply the latest team to unravel under the red storm of 45,396 towel-waving fans at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies never gave the crowd a reason to stop cheering — or Arizona a chance to catch its breath until it was too late.
Schwarber started the home run derby when he launched Zac Gallen’s first pitch 420 feet into the right-field seats. There was some minor consternation that Schwarber — with 47 homers this season and 93 over the last two — had yet to go deep through six playoff games. How easy it was to forget that Schwarber didn’t hit any in the Wild Card Series or NLDS last season before he launched six in the NLCS and World Series. So those Schwarbombs might just be getting started.
“That’s what he does at the start of the game,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He can put the other team on their heels a little bit and get the lead. And we added on tonight.”
Four pitches later, Harper homered to right-center — the first time in 127 postseason games Philadelphia went deep twice in the first inning.
“I think they just ambushed him,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said.
When Castellanos lined his fifth homer of the playoffs in the second — all in the past three games — it gave the Phillies 32 home runs in 13 postseason games at Citizens Bank Park over the last two years.
The Kelce Bros approved. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — minus celebrity friend Taylor Swift — and Eagles center Jason Kelce went wild. Travis pointed to his brother as Jason pounded a beer in their suite.
Gallen, a South Jersey native, had his name derisively drawn out to “Galll-ennnn” by Phillies fans each time the 17-game winner got into a jam. Too many times, for Arizona.
“That’s an aggressive lineup,” Gallen said. “It’s no secret, they try to get the crowd into it as early as possible and that plays into the aggression. Schwarber and Bryce were just looking for fastballs. They got ’em in locations they could handle.”
Trea Turner hit a one-double in the third, leaving first base open. Gallen pitched to Harper instead of walking him and got burned by an RBI single for a 4-0 lead.
J.T. Realmuto added an RBI single in the fifth.
Those runs proved crucial for the Phillies. Geraldo Perdomo hit a two-run homer off Wheeler in the sixth that made it 5-2.
Seranthony Domínguez opened the door in the seventh for the Diamondbacks when his throwing error on a comebacker led to an unearned run. Alvarado retired pinch-hitter Emmanuel Rivera on a groundout to keep it 5-3 and tossed a scoreless eighth.
The Diamondbacks, who at 84-78 squeezed into the playoffs as the final NL wild card, were held to four hits. Corbin Carroll and Ketel Marte both went 1 for 4 and Christian Walker and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were hitless. Gurriel grounded into a game-ending double play.
“There’s a portion of our lineup that was fairly silent that is very capable of carrying this ballclub,” Lovullo said. “With Zac giving up five runs and that part of the lineup, you know, possibly not contributing the way they normally have or can, it tells me a lot about this team that we’re balanced, and we can be dangerous.”
Schwarber’s fourth leadoff homer in the postseason moved him past Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter for most in baseball history.
Harper joined St. Louis’ Kolten Wong, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria and Kansas City’s Willie Aikens as the only players in postseason history to homer on his birthday.
Castellanos’ five homers in his last three postseason game — he hit two in consecutive games against Atlanta — made him the second player to hit those marks. New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson did it in the 1977 World Series.
Arizona sends RHP Merrill Kelly (1-0 postseason, 0.00 ERA) to the mound Tuesday night in Game 2.
RHP Aaron Nola (2-0 postseason, 1.42 ERA) pitches for the Phillies. Nola is eligible for free agency following the World Series after he tabled contract talks with the team in spring training. Nola made $16 million this year on the club option that was part of the $45 million, four-year deal he signed ahead of the 2019 season. He said he wants to stay in Philadelphia.
“I hope so. I really do,” Nola said before the game. “I love it here. Obviously, it’s the only place I’ve been. I came up through some special times in the rebuilding era, and getting to witness and be a part of a lot of different type of teams.”
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