A Manny Machado vs. Bryce Harper NLCS? Why this meeting was inevitable -- and unlikely

The two faces of the most celebrated free agent class in history are playing in the NLCS. How did Manny Machado and Bryce Harper get from two very weird free agencies to crossing paths now? Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

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.