Bryce Harper: Baseball fans have seen many incredible moments throughout history, but some occasions carry a unique magic that captures the imagination of both players and spectators. Bryce Harper, the Philadelphia Phillies’ star outfielder, recently had one such moment on his 31st birthday that baseball enthusiasts won’t soon forget.
For years, Harper had a dream – to play a baseball game on his birthday, an aspiration he couldn’t fulfill during his tenure with the Washington Nationals and initially with the Phillies. However, in 2022, his birthday happened to fall on an off-day following the National League Division Series. Finally, after waiting for the perfect moment, Harper got his wish and celebrated his birthday in the most remarkable way possible.
October birthdays are renowned for their crisp fall weather, which brings a unique ambiance to the baseball diamond. Yet, they rarely afford opportunities for on-field excellence in the postseason. Bryce Harper aimed to change that perception, and he succeeded with flying colors.
In Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Harper made history by becoming the fourth player in American League and National League history to hit a home run on his birthday during the postseason. As he crossed home plate in the first inning, he playfully flashed three fingers on his left hand and one on his right, mimicking the act of blowing out birthday candles. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park erupted in joy, as teammate Kyle Schwarber aptly put it, “went nuts” in response to Harper’s birthday heroics.
Trea Turner, the Phillies’ shortstop, expressed the significance of playing on one’s birthday this late in the season, saying, “It’s pretty cool to play on your birthday when your birthday’s this late. I think that’s a big deal.” Harper’s feat put him in elite company, joining Willie Aikens, Evan Longoria, and Kolten Wong as the only players to hit a birthday home run in the postseason. Notably, Harper and Aikens are the only ones to do so in the League Championship Series or World Series, and they are also the only players to accomplish this while having a multi-hit game.
Harper’s birthday performance was not limited to his historic home run. He contributed significantly to the Phillies’ 5-3 victory, adding an RBI single in the third inning and a walk in the fifth. Harper reached base three times, scored twice, and showcased his all-around talent. It’s important to note that Willie Aikens, a prominent figure in the 1980 Kansas City Royals’ championship team, still holds the distinction as the only player to hit two birthday home runs in a single postseason game.
Harper’s birthday magic continued throughout the game, making his 31st birthday one to remember. It began with a midnight text from his wife, Kayla, who was the first to offer birthday wishes. Harper, in a pregame interview, expressed his excitement about playing on his birthday, and he undoubtedly made the most of the opportunity.
Facing the formidable NL Cy Young Award contender, Zac Gallen, Harper wasted no time in making his mark. With one out in the first inning and the bases empty following a leadoff homer by Schwarber, Harper launched the first pitch he saw to right-center field. The ball bounced off a railing and ricocheted into the home bullpen. As Harper rounded third base, he added an unforgettable touch to his home run trot, pretending to blow out birthday candles as he touched home plate.
After this unique celebration, Harper’s actions were subject to interpretation. In the dugout, Trea Turner initially thought Harper was signaling his fourth home run of the postseason, highlighting the slugger’s exceptional October performance. To date, Harper has been a dominant force, boasting a .409 batting average, .567 on-base percentage, and a .955 slugging percentage in 30 plate appearances. He has accumulated seven RBIs, nine runs scored, and eight walks, confirming his status as one of the NL’s most potent postseason hitters.
In fact, dating back to last year, the Phillies have an impressive 9-0 record when Harper homers in a postseason game, underscoring his influence on the team’s success. His ability to come through in clutch moments is unquestionable, as he has hit four home runs in his last five playoff games.
Kyle Schwarber encapsulated the essence of Bryce Harper’s playoff magic by saying, “This guy, he’s looking for the moment…When he is going up to the plate, you’re just thinking he is going to do something special every single time.” Harper’s remarkable birthday performance is a testament to his determination, skill, and his uncanny ability to shine on the grandest stages of baseball. For Bryce Harper, 31 looks good, and it’s safe to say that his wish came true in the most spectacular fashion.