By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
SAN DIEGO — In June 2014, I walked into a Starbucks in suburban Maryland and saw 7-foot-7 former NBA center Gheorghe Mureșan. It was quite a thing, to see the tallest player in NBA history towering over the creamer and sugar packets and napkins. An abnormal character in an everyday space, just waiting for his morning coffee.
The instant I laid eyes on him, I knew it would become a truly unforgettable moment in my life. And that’s because Mureșan was, still is and will always be the tallest human being I’ll ever see.
There was something spectacular and exhilarating and a little sad about that experience. Whenever I see a super-tall person now, I still think, “Whoa, that person is tall,” but I also can’t help but think that they’re definitely shorter than Mureșan. Everything pales in comparison to that morning in Starbucks.
Kyle Schwarber cranks a mammoth home run in Game 1
Kyle Schwarber demolishes a home run off Yu Darvish to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead on the Padres in Game 1 of the NLCS
I’ve seen a lot of baseball games in my life. Hopefully, I’ll see many more before I leave this world. But I doubt I’ll ever see a homer like that again.
Schwarber’s Phillies teammates, who together have witnessed thousands and thousands of ball games, said the same. J.T. Realmuto called it “the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit in person.” Aaron Nola said it was as far as he could remember a home run traveling. Rhys Hoskins quipped that it flew out like a golf ball.
“It’s like poetry in motion, man,” Nick Castellanos said of hitting a ball as hard as Schwarber did Tuesday. “It really can’t be explained. It’s, like, a feeling.”
“I don’t know how a person can hit it harder or farther than that,” backup catcher Garrett Stubbs pondered.
But the reaction of Bryce Harper, who at age 16 hit a baseball 502 feet with a metal bat, stole the show. Think about how many homers, how many outrageously hard-hit baseballs, Harper has conjured in his incredible career.
With one majestic swing, Schwarber sent him back to grade school, leaving Harper’s eyes wide with childish wonder and his mouth agape in sheer amazement.
The 488-foot homer, which gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead they’d carry home, is now the longest in Petco Park history. It left the bat with a launch angle of 25 degrees at 119.7 mph, making it the single hardest-hit ball of Schwarber’s career. Upon its arrival into the third row of Section 229, the big fly became the first ball to reach the upper deck in left field at the stadium.
“In batting practice today, [Nick Maton] and I were talking about whether anyone could hit one up there,” San Diego native Stubbs told FOX Sports after the game. “Maton said there was no way, not even in BP.
“Enter: Kyle Schwarber. Enter: The Grizzly Bear.”
Schwarber was predictably humble in his postgame news conference, stressing that his intergalactic blast counted for just as many runs as Harper’s front-row wall-scraper two innings earlier.
“A point’s a point,” he said.
But the 29-year-old outfielder — whose 46 dingers this season placed him second in MLB, behind only Aaron Judge — noted that upon his post-trot return to the dugout, his teammates had a discernibly abnormal reaction.
“A lot of people [in the dugout] just looked at me weird,” Schwarber mused.
Accomplish alien tasks, receive alien stares.
Schwarber’s homer could have a different kind of lasting significance for the Phillies, who now lead the best-of-seven NLCS one game to zero. Before his 2-for-3 with a walk Tuesday, Schwarber had been riding a Siberian-level cold stretch at the plate. In 20 plate appearances across the first two rounds of the postseason, he’d tallied a single hit — a harmless single against the Braves.
Despite those struggles, Philly skipper Rob Thomson continued to hit Schwarber in the leadoff spot, a decision that induced more and more ire as the strikeouts and rollovers piled up. But as has so often been the case with Thomson this season, a steady and even-keeled approach won the day. The manager stuck with his guy. Now, Schwarber looks like himself again.
If that’s the case, the Phillies have to be feeling good. They steamrollered through the Wild-Card Round and NLDS while getting bupkis from a guy who hit 46 bombs. Just imagine what they could do with a reinvigorated Schwarber.
Tuesday’s titanic moon-scraper might prove to be the spark. That would be appropriate because boy, oh boy, was it magnificent and awe-inspiring. The ball went impossibly far, impossibly quickly. If my job weren’t to put together words about it, I’d be at a loss for them.
Even the sound was different. First, a mighty thwack, like a bolt of lightning snapping a redwood tree in half, and then, a hush of silence except for a handful of shocked “ooohs” “oh my gods” and “holy !@#$s.” By that point, everyone’s jaw was on the floor. Stunned Padres fans whispered in nervous laughter as Schwarber rounded the bases. They couldn’t help but appreciate what they’d seen.
Chances are they’ll never see anything like it again.
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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