Bryce Harper’s latest homer powers Phillies past Padres for NL pennant

AP photo by Matt Rourke / Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper connects on a two-run homer during the eighth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS against the visiting San Diego Padres on Sunday night.

PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper broke up the Philadelphia Phillies' latest postseason party on the mound Sunday evening and directed his team to where the true revelry was about to begin for the National League champions.

"Come on, let's go inside! Let's go!" he ordered.

With that, Harper walked toward the dugout and raised his arms in jubilation to the soundtrack of the home crowd at Citizens Bank Park screaming "MV3! MV3! " The Phillies scrambled inside for the Broad Street bubbly that awaited in the clubhouse.

Harper made the scene possible because he rose to the moment Philly demanded of him from the time he signed the richest free-agent deal in Major League Baseball history. Harper has made the monumental feat of hitting a baseball look so easy in this postseason, and with the pennant at stake, he delivered with the defining moment of his four-year Phillies career.

Harper slugged his fifth homer of these playoffs, a two-run blast in the eighth inning that turned the stadium into a madhouse, and the $330 million slugger powered the Phillies past the San Diego Padres 4-3 on Sunday and into the World Series for the first the time since 2009.

One swing. One opposite-field shot. One winning home run that seemed all but destined from the moment he came to the plate in the eighth inning with the Phillies and their fans beckoning Harper to deliver in the clutch just one more time.

"I hit the ball, and I just looked at my dugout, and kind of it's for all of them," he said. "It's for this whole team. It's for this whole organization."

Rhys Hoskins also hit a two-run homer in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series to spark Philadelphia's improbable run toward what the club and city hopes is their first World Series championship since 2008. Harper was named MVP of the best-of-seven NLCS, and as he parked the trophy on a dais, he made it clear the personal awards meant nothing to him without a ring.

"I don't really care about this, but MLB is making me do it," Harper said.

Philadelphia trailed 3-2 when J.T. Realmuto began the eighth with a single off reliever Robert Suarez. Harper then lined a 98 mph sinker on a 2-2 count the opposite way, into the left-field seats as another sellout crowd of 45,485 shook the stadium.

Harper hoped the homer set the stage for other highlights on deck in the next couple of weeks. The World Series begins Friday with the first of back-to-back home games for the Houston Astros, who finished off a sweep of the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series on Sunday night.

"We've got four more," the two-time NL MVP told the fans during an on-field celebration, and they roared again knowing the number of wins it will take to complete a title run.

The lefty-swinging Harper connected off a right-hander; the Padres had left-handed closer Josh Hader warming up in the bullpen, but didn't bring him in.

"It's a thought at this point, but that wasn't what we were thinking," Padres manager Bob Melvin said. "We were trying to get to four-out position for Hader, and we had a lot of confidence in Suarez."

The Phillies felt the same way about Harper.

"Pure chaos, right? I don't think anybody was surprised," Hoskins said. "This guy has a knack for coming up in the biggest moments. It's just what he's done his whole career, and we've seen it plenty of times."

Remember, too: When Harper's thumb was broken by a pitch from San Diego's Blake Snell in late June, there were some concerns that he might not return this season.

Instead, the star who signed a 13-year contract to play in Philadelphia delivered — in this season, in this game.

Even after Harper's homer put them ahead, it wasn't an easy ending for the Phillies.

Reliever David Robertson was pulled after a pair of one-out walks in the ninth. Ranger Suárez made his first relief appearance of the season and retired Trent Grisham on a bunt and got Austin Nola — brother of Phillies ace Aaron Nola — on a routine fly to finish it for a huge save.

The Phillie Phanatic swayed an NL champions flag as the postseason banger "Dancing On My Own" blared throughout the stadium. Alec Bohm and Nick Castellanos stripped off their shirts and danced in the clubhouse. Cigars were lit. Cheap beer was sprayed. The alcohol puddles on the carpet went deeper than the ones caused by the rain in a sloppy, gusty Game 5.

Philly, get ready. These sixth-seeded Phillies — yes, that is a thing this season — feel like they're just getting started.

Harper, who turned 30 last week, is batting .439 (18-for-41) with six doubles, five homers, 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored over 11 postseason games. He has hit in 10 straight and has reached base in all 11.

And the feared designated hitter can keep those streaks alive when he plays in his first World Series.

"To a certain degree, it's getting overlooked because of who he is and the star that he is," Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. "He's a guy that's a big star that's delivered. Can't say enough about that."

Philadelphia finished third in the NL East Division at 87-75, a full 14 games behind the 101-win Atlanta Braves this season, and were the last club in the majors to make the 12-team playoff field. After a 2-0 sweep of NL Central champion St. Louis in MLB's newly created wild-card round, the Phillies needed only four games to knock out Atlanta, the 2021 World Series champs.

Now they'll try to become the first team that finished in third place to win an MLB title.

The Padres took a 3-2 lead in a sloppy seventh inning as rain pounded the park and turned portions of the infield, notably around third base, into a mud pit. But it was Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez's slippery grip that almost cost the Phillies.

Starter Zack Wheeler was fantastic again and struck out eight batters in six innings. He was lifted with a 2-1 lead after Jake Cronenworth's leadoff single in the seventh. Dominguez couldn't find his feel with the ball as the rain picked up, puddles formed near third base and the infield dirt turned to mush. He threw one wild pitch, and Josh Bell lined a tying RBI double to right that made it 2-1.

Dominguz then threw two more wild pitches that allowed pinch-runner Jose Azocar to scamper home for the 3-2 lead. The righty reliever threw only three wild pitches in 51 innings all season — then uncorked three in the seventh.

Things got tense in Philly. But they always had Harper in their back pocket, like a lucky charm.

"Harper had a huge moment there," Padres slugger Manny Machado said. "You just have to tip your hat."

The Phillies improved to 5-0 this postseason at home, and they'll play at least two more games there.

The home team caught a break in the third when NL home run champion Kyle Schwarber was called out on a two-out stolen-base attempt. The call was overturned on replay, and the Phillies had new life.

Hoskins, who came in hitting a quite memorable .171, smashed one into the left-field seats off starter Yu Darvish as the crowd went wild. He hopped down the line as he mouthed some words to his teammates in the dugout and twirled his bat — not unlike the steadily spinning rally towels — as he gave them a 2-0 lead.

Wheeler gave up Soto's solo homer in the inning that made it 2-1. Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove snapped a Polaroid picture of Soto in the dugout.

Try as they might, the Padres weren't ready for their closeup.

In the end, the Phillies were picture perfect.

Second baseman Jean Segura cleared a path on the infield as the rest of the Phillies sat near the mound, took off on a running start and slid head first into the team photo.

Then it was time to party. Harper demanded it.