Bryce Harper's biggest strength as a hitter has always been his discipline at the plate, waiting for the right pitch to unleash his controlled fury. Fall behind him in the count and watch out -- he has hit .446 in his career when putting a 1-0 pitch into play and .435 this season. That's the situation Yu Darvish faced in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series with a 1-0 count and the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres still scoreless.
Darvish wanted to throw a fastball down and away but got it up too high, and Harper lofted a towering fly ball to left field that landed in the second row of spectators. With a 42-degree launch angle, it was Harper's highest-hit home run of 2022, and while hardly his most impressive, it was his most important as it gave Philadelphia a Game 1 lead it would never relinquish.
Round 1 to the Phillies and Round 1 in the Harper-Manny Machado showdown to Harper -- but a day later it was the San Diego star's turn to shine, as his 400-plus-foot homer to center field provided the exclamation point in a series-tying 8-5 Game 2 victory for the Padres.
While the two $300 million superstars have shared the field in the NLCS the past couple of days, the baseball lives of Harper and Machado have always been closely intertwined.