Even Santa Claus got cheered Saturday night in Philly.
Not Rhys Hoskins. He got booed. At least, he did at first.
He got booed when the lineups were read before the game. He got booed in the bottom of the first inning, when he entered the batter’s box. Outside of one bat-spiking moment of ecstasy, he’d had a rough postseason. All of his teammates understood why the fans were riding Rhys, but none of his teammates cared.
» READ MORE: Phillies-Padres Game 4: A home clincher with Zack Wheeler on the mound is how you draw it up
“We believe in him. We all believe in what he can do,” said Bryce Harper. “We know how our fans are. We love that about them. They’re going to let you know. It is what it is.
“Then he comes back and has an incredible night tonight.”
By the time he left the box in the first inning, those boos had turned to delirious, Bank-shaking cheers, as Hoskins cut the Padres’ 4-0 lead in half with a 384-foot home run to left-center field.
By the time he left the box in the fifth inning those cheers turned into full-throated roars after he lifted another two-run shot that drifted through the cool October night, 417 feet, on roughly the same vector as the first. That tied the game, 6-6.
“Two huge ABs for us,” Harper said. “We needed those.”
Hoskins’ homers, and the torrent of offense it released, couldn’t have been more timely. A hodgepodge of Phillies pitchers surrendered six runs in the first five innings, begun by Bailey Falter’s inauspicious postseason debut as a starter; he got two outs and gave up four runs.
“We knew we were gonna have to slug,” Hoskins said.l
» READ MORE: Saving a seat for Skip: The seat beside this Phillies mega-fan is empty — in honor of his late dad
Slug, they did. As they entered the dugout for their first-ups, several Phillies recited the rallying cry that helped them to 87 wins: “Twenty-seven outs.”
Topper, the manager, said it, too. When Rob Thomson, the Yoda of Pattison Avenue says it, you know the force is with you.
Hoskins helped chase Padres starter Mike Clevinger before Clevinger recorded a single out.
All night, the Fantastic Five — the $101 million in power bats who comprised the Phillies’ first five hitters — demolished the hopes of the Padres. Their power pushed the Phillies to a 10-6 win and a 3-1 series lead, with ace Zack Wheeler starting Game 5 on Sunday at 2:37 pm
They’re 27 outs away from their first World Series appearance in 13 years. It’s only fitting that the $250 million offense that owner John Middleton bought with the franchise’s first-ever luxury tax penalty brought them to this moment.
“I think Mr. Middleton has done a great job of bringing the pieces in we’ve needed,” Harper said. He was the first piece, and the biggest, at $330 million. As the reigning NL MVP batting .410 with a 1.311 OPS, four homers and nine RBIs in one of the best postseasons in Phillies history — heck, in baseball history — he’s been a bargain.
» READ MORE: More than a double-play tandem: Phillies veteran Jean Segura shares a close bond with rookie Bryson Stott
Harper followed Hoskins with an RBI double in the first that cut the lead to one, then an RBI double in the fifth that gave the Phillies the lead for good, 7-6. Kyle Schwarber and JT Realmuto hit solo shots in the sixth and seventh, respectively. Nick Castellanos led off the fourth with a double and scored, then knocked in Harper with a single in the fifth.
“We knew the game was not over by any means,” Hoskins said. “Obviously, huge to come out and punch back right away in the first inning. I think those runs are huge. Adding the third run, making it a one-run game immediately just gets us right back in the game.”
It all started with Hoskins, the most potent home-grown power bat since Ryan Howard, and the most dangerous home-grown right-handed hitter since Mike Schmidt. The player Bryce Harper, the reigning MVP, calls The Captain.
So, why the boos?
Why boo the man whose three-run home run and the resulting bat spike fueled the series-altering Game 3 win in the NLDS — a play that set the internet on fire with its raw emotion?
Some among the 45,467 held a grudge over Hoskins’ lousy defense. He led major league first basemen with 12 errors. Unfortunately for the Phillies, he’s the fourth designated hitter on the roster, and, since Harper can’t throw right now — he’s injured, but can hit — Hoskins has to take the field every night.
His misplay in Game 2 of the NLDS, when a squirrelly ground ball got past him and led to the Braves’ only win in the series, left him vowing that “It’s a play I made before, and will make again.”
» READ MORE: Jayson Werth to throw out first pitch at Game 5 of the NLCS on Sunday
Really? Because Hoskins made another, similar misplay, on Friday, in Game 3 of the NLCS, when he botched a routine ground ball. That led to one of the Padres’ two runs. The Phillies won, but Hoskins wore the scarlet “E.”
Others among the faithful observed that, besides that bat-spike moment, Hoskins had done little with his bat in the postseason. He entered the game hitting .135, the worst average on the Phillies, and he’d struck out 14 times, which also was the worst on the team.
He needed to redeem himself. Was he redeemed?
“One hundred percent,” said Schwarber. “You see what Rhys did tonight. We talked about that: We don’t carry things over.”
The fans carry things over, and they let him know they noticed.
Pretty sure even Santa Claus was booing.
Then, he wasn’t.