'Greatest fans in the world': Phillies supporters turn Baltimore into playoff atmosphere

BALTIMORE – It was just Game No. 69 on the schedule, indiscernible from so many others lined up on the six-month slog to meaningful October baseball. Yet Friday at Camden Yards provided one of those nights that differentiated from the grind, that whetted the appetite for something more meaningful months down the line.

Tape-measure home runs. A bipartisan crowd that jammed the old ballpark, Philadelphia Phillies fans roaring their presence and Baltimore Orioles backers aiming to respond in kind.

A stunning bang-bang play at the plate, an out call ending the game reversed on replay, followed by the skies opening and a 71-minute rain delay.

By the time the tarps were pulled and baseball resumed late into the night, it was almost all Phillies fans crowding the lower bowl, from bros in overalls to kids in Bryce Harper jerseys to oldsters in Mike Schmidt gear. And their wait was rewarded, when Alec Bohm followed an intentional walk to Bryce Harper by smoking a two-run double to the wall in left field, providing a 5-3, 11-inning victory over Baltimore.

Kyle Schwarber celebrates with Bryce Harper after hitting a home run Friday at Camden Yards.
Kyle Schwarber celebrates with Bryce Harper after hitting a home run Friday at Camden Yards.

The Phillies are 47-22 and the Orioles 45-24, both keeping an eye on the transcendent New York Yankees for both regular and postseason purposes. It’s not terribly farfetched to think this season could end with a rematch of the 1983 World Series, the last won by the Orioles when they vanquished the Phillies, whose Citizens Bank Park home is just 100 miles up I-95.

Friday night, with Phillies fans coming south to comprise much to most of the sellout crowd of 43,987, you didn’t need imagination to envision October.

“We’ve got the greatest fans in the world,” says Phillies manager Rob Thomson, the skipper for the past two playoff runs that saw Citizens Bank Park rock and implore the Phillies all the way to the 2022 World Series.

“The people that stayed to the end – that was really cool. Our guys appreciated it. All the talk about this series, all over MLB Network that it’s a big series – the atmosphere was tremendous. We got a lot of Philly fans here and obviously a lot of Baltimore fans. It was a great game, back and forth.

“It was like a playoff game.”

It might have been a costly loss for the Orioles, with manager Brandon Hyde telling reporters starter Kyle Bradish complained of elbow pain after the fifth inning and will undergo testing. Bradish missed all of spring training and the first month of the season recovering from an elbow sprain and managed to avoid surgery; he has a 2.75 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 39 ⅓ innings this year.

The collision between the teams with the second and third-best records in the major leagues began with a thunderclap, Kyle Schwarber smoking Bradish’s fourth pitch 406 feet for his 38th career leadoff home run. Rafael Marchan, playing only because All-Star J.T. Realmuto is on the injured list after knee surgery, made his first hit of the year count by hitting a home run to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead.

Suarez would lower his ERA to 1.77 by reaching the seventh inning, and an inning later Anthony Santander muscled a ball 440 feet over the tall wall in left field to tie the score.

Then, things got crazy.

It stayed 2-2 into the 10th, when Schwarber’s single cashed in the courtesy runner. Phillies reliever Orion Kerkering sandwiched a hit batter and walk around two strikeouts, putting Cedric Mullins at third and Santander at the plate with two outs.

But Kerkering and Marchan got crossed up – Marchan called slider, Kerkering threw a 98-mph fastball – and uncorked a wild pitch. It one-hopped the backstop, ricocheting off a dasherboard ad for a financial services company, and right back to Marchan.

He slipped and stumbled as the speedy Mullins darted from third. Both dove for the plate.

Umpire Charlie Ramos called Mullins out.

Game over.

Mullins was apoplectic, and replays seemed to indicate he’d be safe. The replay ops center in New York agreed, the game continued and Santander nearly uncorked a grand slam to dead center.

Instead, the 11th inning, but not until the rains came. The crowd scampered under concourses but came back out, very much Philly strong, long before the tarp was pulled.

Bohm spent the 71-minute delay relaxing, figuring he might hit in the cage, but it was kind of far down a corridor beneath Camden Yards. After Nick Castellanos made the first out of the 11th, Bohm didn’t even stop at the on-deck circle before Harper could dig in.

Intentional walk.

“I really didn’t have to look,” says Bohm. “If Nick doesn’t get on, they’re gonna walk Bryce and go for the double play. It’s a baseball move. Obviously, you’re going to walk Bryce Harper.

“It’s just what you do.”

And what Bohm does is simply drive in runs. He’d cooled a bit after a scorching first couple months, but on this night clobbered a Jacob Webb first-pitch fastball over left fielder Austin Hays’ head. Ghost runner Schwarber and Harper scampered home.

What remained of the crowd roared. Many would soon attack I-95 and arrive home well after midnight, but the wait was worth it.

Same goes for the Phillies. This trip started in London, where they split two games with the Mets, and then to Fenway Park, and an uncharacteristically poor pitching series in which they dropped two of three.

There was Phillies blue in London and Boston, but nothing like getting almost home.

“Every stop this road trip has been a pretty cool atmosphere,” says Bohm, who’s now driven in 54 runs, second in the NL. “Anytime you go play in Fenway, it’s gonna be cool. The London Series, here - the fans are traveling. Everywhere we go, we have a lot of support.

“It makes the game more fun and obviously, everybody wants to play in a full stadium.”

The Phillies have painted some masterpieces this year. Thomson said Friday was different – and there’s still two more games to go, sellout crowds expected for both, including Sunday’s aces showdown pitting Zack Wheeler vs. Corbin Burnes.

It might get loud.

“It’s the most exciting game that we’ve had this year,” he says. “And the guys responded so it’s good to see.

“We’ve been on this long road trip. They show up to Boston. They show up here. They stayed through a rain delay. It tells me a lot about this fan base. They’re fantastic.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Phillies 'greatest fans in the world' create playoff feel vs. Orioles