Bryce Harper is London’s ‘showman’ in Phillies’ opening victory over Mets

Philadelphia Phillies players line up before the MLB game against the New York Mets Saturday in London. (REUTERS/Matthew Childs)

LONDON — They wedged a baseball field into a Premier League soccer stadium. Mascots of Freddie Mercury and Winston Churchill ran along the warning track. “God Save the King” played before the game.

But the main attraction, as ever, was Bryce Harper.


What, you expected something else?

If Harper isn’t the best player in baseball, he’s surely its biggest star. His Phillies teammates call him “The Showman” because he loves a grand stage. And for a sport that’s hoping to extend its reach into Europe, this might as well have been Shakespeare’s Globe.

There was Harper, then, with the Phanatic in a Grenadier Guard’s hat painted on the barrel of his bat and the Spice Girls’ catalog as his walk-up music, stepping to the plate in the fourth inning and crushing a game-tying solo homer to right field.

And there was Harper, high-fiving teammates at home plate before sliding on his knees — an homage to the soccer players who usually tread the turf at London Stadium — in front of waiting manager Rob Thomson in the dugout.

It was theatrical. It was a spectacle. It was Harper, making a proper introduction to fans in the United Kingdom in the Phillies’ 7-2 thumping of the New York Mets, their struggling rival.

The Phillies, now 45-19, took their best-in-the-majors show to another continent and showed why they’re so good. Ranger Suárez didn’t have his best stuff and still gave up only two runs in 5 2/3 innings. With the Mets rallying with two out in the sixth, Orion Kerkering blew 100 mph heaters and broke off 88 mph breaking pitches to strike out Mets star Francisco Lindor.

And in the land of bangers and mash, the Phillies banged and mashed.

Kick-started by Harper’s homer, they scored six runs in the fourth inning against Mets lefty starter Sean Manaea. They were opportunistic. And they got contributions from all corners of the roster.

To wit: After Mets right fielder Starling Marte let Edmundo Sosa’s lazy two-out fly ball fall in front of him for a go-ahead RBI single (.140 expected batting average, according to Statcast), struggling utilityman Whit Merrifield blasted a three-run homer to open a 5-1 lead.

Nick Castellanos tacked on a homer in the eighth inning, and the Phillies won for the seventh time in eight games after a speed bump on a western swing to Denver and San Francisco, their only hiccup of the season.

Phillies fans, foreign and domestic, packed London Stadium, and it was a full-on party. It brought out commissioner Rob Manfred, players’ union head Tony Clark, and several former players, including a score of 2008 Phillies, from Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard to Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, and Chase Utley, a London resident.

“This is a great opportunity for Major League Baseball and us, the Phillies and the Mets, to get this experience, but also for the game itself, where hopefully it’s going to keep growing in a big way,” said Kyle Schwarber. “Hopefully, 20 years down the road, there’s going to be a kid that was sitting in the stands that’s in the big leagues.”

Surely, that kid would remember the impression that Harper made.

It wasn’t only the homer. Or the Spice Girls. Or even the slide. Harper is embracing the entire experience. He wore cleats that were designed for the occasion. He used the commemorative bat. He played to the crowd.

Harper pounded a double in the first inning. After the homer, he tacked on a single in the fifth. He was mic’d up for Fox during the game.

“As we come into the UK — I imagine we’d probably go into a lot of other places just like the NFL has, as well — I think that’s going to help put our game in front of [new] fans,” Harper said Friday. “But also fans are going to have to want to watch us play.”

In other words, fans who are new to baseball are going to have to think it’s cool.

After seeing Harper do his thing, it’s hard to imagine feeling anything else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email