CLEVELAND -- Bryce Harper stepped on home plate and made an "O-H" motion to the crowd, a nod to his wife's alma mater. This is Ohio State country after all, so Harper figured he would try to fit in with the locals, especially after the Buckeyes scored 76 points on Saturday.
Oh, and the gesture served as a helpful reminder, too, that the results still matter to the Phillies.
They might need to complete a Hail Mary pass, to continue the football theme, but the Phillies remain mathematically alive for the last National League wild-card spot. Through the first 13 innings of this weekend's series here at Progressive Field, it felt like the Cleveland Indians were the only team on the field that was in a playoff race.
Harper's three-run homer at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning against Indians lefty reliever Oliver Perez was the biggest blow in an 8-4 victory that evened the three-game interleague series. The Phillies bashed a total of four homers, including two by left fielder Brad Miller, who earned a measure of revenge against the team that designated him for assignment in April.
And then there was Jason Vargas, who offered up a rarity in recording his first victory in 10 starts for the Phillies. The soft-tossing lefty worked into the seventh inning, marking only the third time since the beginning of August that a Phillies starter other than Aaron Nola completed threw at least 100 pitches in a game. Vargas, Drew Smyly and Vince Velasquez have each done it once.
Nevertheless, the Phillies' flickering wild-card hopes got even dimmer. The Milwaukee Brewers won for the 14th time in 16 games, 10-1 over the dreadful Pittsburgh Pirates, lowering the Phillies' tragic number to four. Any combination of four Phillies losses or Brewers wins will knock the Phillies out of contention.
But the Phillies can still achieve other, albeit far more modest goals. If they finish 3-6 in their final nine games, they will have a winning record for the first time since 2011. They're also a half-game behind the New York Mets for third place.
Harper's team-leading 33rd homer of the season came at the game's most crucial moment. With the Phillies trailing 4-2, runners on the corners and one out, Indians manager Terry Francona called on Perez, against whom Harper was 0 for 5 with four strikeouts in his career. Harper fouled off five pitches during the at-bat before hitting a slider out to right-center field to open a 5-4 lead.
Two batters later, Jay Bruce went deep against Indians reliever James Hoyt. It was only Bruce's second hit in 36 at-bats since the All-Star break, and it gave the Phillies a 6-4 lead that grew when they added three runs in the ninth.
Miller, who entered the game with six homers, went deep against Indians starter Zach Plesac in the fourth inning and reliever Nick Wittgren in the ninth. He ruffled some feathers in Cleveland after being cut loose by saying that the Indians "don't want their best guys up here." Pressed into action because of the Phillies' injuries in left field, he's 3 for 8 so far in the series.