CLEVELAND (AP) – Bryce Harper connected for a three-run homer that Philadelphia desperately needed and the Phillies avoided sliding any deeper in the NL wild-card standings with a 9-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night.
Brad Miller homered twice as the Phillies stayed within five games of Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot.
But it was Harper’s 33rd homer in the fifth inning off left-hander Oliver Pérez (2-4) – a shot the Ohio State football fan celebrated by flashing an “O-H” as he crossed home plate – that put the Phillies ahead and prevented them from fading further from the postseason picture.
Jay Bruce also homered in Philadelphia’s four-run rally in the fifth and Jason Vargas (7-8) shook off a rough start to finally get his first win in his 10th outing for the Phillies.
Rookie Oscar Mercado hit a two-run homer for the Indians, who fell one game behind Tampa Bay for the AL’s No. 2 wild-card berth. The Rays beat Boston 5-4 in 11 innings.
Harper’s 413-foot shot was the kind of moment the Phillies envisioned when they signed the six-time All-Star to a 13-year, $330 million free agent contract in March.
After Indians rookie starter Zach Plesac gave up a pair of singles, manager Terry Francona didn’t want to take any chances with Harper coming up and brought in Perez, who retired the superstar on a grounder in Cleveland’s win on Friday.
But this time, Harper was locked in. He fouled off five pitches – two of them with two strikes – before pounding Perez’s 79 mph slider deep into the right-field seats to put the Phillies up 5-4.
When he circled the bases, Harper, who backs the Buckeyes football team because his wife played soccer at Ohio State, raised his arms with a sign usually reserved for fall Saturdays in Ohio. Earlier, Harper watched the Buckeyes on a clubhouse TV as they dismantled Miami (Ohio) 76-5.
Miller, who opened the season as Cleveland’s starting second baseman, opened the ninth with a homer and Harper added a sacrifice fly in the inning as the Phillies blew it open with three runs.
Two batters after Harper’s homer in the fifth, Bruce snapped a 0-for-15 slide with his 26th homer.
Vargas settled in after his defense made two errors in the first and he fell behind 4-1 after two innings. The left-hander had been 0-3 with six no-decisions since coming over in a trade from the New York Mets on July 29.
Phillies: SS Jean Segura (sore left ankle) returned after being a late scratch Friday. He was removed from Thursday’s game in Atlanta after beating out an infield hit.
Indians: 3B Jose Ramirez looked good batting against right- and left-hander pitchers pregame, a significant step in his recovery from a broken right hand. Indians president Chris Antonetti said the team will see how Ramirez responds, adding “everything is on the table” when asked if the two-time All-Star could be activated as early as Sunday. … RHP Corey Kluber (broken arm) is still in the mix to pitch, but it will depend on if the Indians make the postseason. “I’d love for him to be pitching Game 7 of the World Series,” Antonetti said, smiling. “That’s a good outcome for us.”
Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89 ERA) has won his past three decisions. He struck out eight in five innings in his last start.
Indians: RHP Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34 ERA) starts the regular-season home finale and makes his first career appearance against the Phillies.