WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Bryce Harper told the Little League kids from suburban Philadelphia who had been eliminated from the World Series that they should use the experience in Williamsport as a stepping stone toward something great.
Hours later, after Harper went 0-for-3 and the National League champion Phillies dropped two of three to the Nationals, the slugger might want to take his own advice.
Trevor Williams tossed two-hit ball over six shutout innings and led the Washington Nationals to a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday night in front of hundreds of the best Little League World Series players from around the world.
“I want to come back,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “What a great experience. Long day but unbelievable day.”
Jake Cave hit a two-run homer off Kyle Finnegan in the ninth but the Nationals closer recovered to strike out pinch-hitter J.T. Realmuto to end the game and set off a flurry of fireworks in the outfield. Finnegan got his 21st save.
Up next for the Phillies, a three-game series at home against San Francisco in a matchup between the top-two wild card teams in the National League. The Phillies hold a 2 1/2-game edge for the top spot.
“We’ve just got to dust ourselves off and get after it,” manager Rob Thomson said. “It is a big series. We win that series and you put some distance between yourself and San Francisco.”
There was a much greater geographical distance among the Little Leaguers. Little Leaguers from 20 teams — from Nevada to Venezuela to Japan — helped stuff Historic Bowman Field, many of the kids using dugout tops as makeshift coasters for Gatorade bottles, hot dogs and other favorite ballpark snacks.
Some lucky ones even got to chew the fat at the sixth MLB Little League Classic with big leaguers such as Harper and Washington’s Joey Meneses. Meneses, out of Culiacán, Mexico, advised the Mexican Little Leaguers to “stay calm” in the spotlight. Harper tried to cheer up Media, of suburban Philadelphia, and fist-bumped some players after the team lost Sunday.
“It’s a stepping stone to being great,” Harper told the kids. “That’s what you kids are all going to be, is great.”
OK, how about a bat such as the one used by Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott that was painted to resemble a No. 2 pencil? Yes, the end of the barrel was decorated as an eraser. Harper used one with his BFF’s face, the Phanatic, on the bat. While the Phanatic may easily be the most recognizable — let’s say, celebrity? — in Philadelphia, ESPN announcer David Cone confused the creature with SpongeBob on the broadcast.
The Little Leaguers were treated like stars. They tossed T-shirts from atop the dugout to fans, mingled with players during the game, got interviewed on television and kept the soda vendors hustling.
With his father watching from the stands, Williams (6-7) made pitching against the Phillies look like child’s play.
“He teased me saying, ‘I’m finally at Williamsport with you,’” Williams said laughing, as he recalled the conversation.
One night after Trea Turner homered twice in one inning in a Phillies’ rout, Williams struck out four and walked three.
He had some early help against the NL wild-card leaders. Keibert Ruiz ripped a two-RBI double off Phillies starter Zack Wheeler (9-6) and Dominic Smith had a two RBI single for a 4-0 lead in the first.
Williams settled down after that. He struck out five in seven innings in front of a crowd that included Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred and Little League President Stephen Keener.
The big boppers Phillies fans came to see play — throw in the Media connection and most of the fans donned some sort of team merch — went down quietly. All-Star Nick Castellanos doubled in the sixth, but Harper and Kyle Schwarber were both hitless.
The Phillies and Nationals spent part of the day at the Little League International Complex and shared activities from cardboard sledding to whiffle ball games with the Little Leaguers. The Phillies even took in a few innings watching the Media game and went wild when the team staged a tying rally.
“I think it’s been a lot of fun,” Thomson said before the game. “It was really an unbelievable experience to see the energy, the amount of people that were there, imagining as a 10 or 11 year old playing in front of that many people in front of that type of energy.”
The kids returned the favor hours later. The front-row seats behind the dugouts belonged to 12-year-olds dressed in full uniform and hanging on every pitch — well, at least when they didn’t chase the team mascots for photos or rise in unison between each inning in hopes of having a major leaguer toss them a ball.
Phillies OF Brandon Marsh was recalled from his rehab assignment (left knee contusion) with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
The New York Yankees will play the Detroit Tigers in the 2024 Little League Classic on Aug. 18 at Bowman Field.
Detroit will be home team for the game, originally scheduled for Comerica Park, where the teams meet on Aug. 16 and 17. Both teams will attend Little League World Series games on Aug. 18.
The Nationals take a day off and head to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees.
The Giants have not announced a starting pitcher and will face Phillies RHP Aaron Nola (10-8, 4.58) in Philadelphia in the first game of a three-game series Monday.