Philadelphia's Bryce Harper celebrates after the Phillies defeated the San Diego Padres to qualify for the World Series

New York (AFP) - Bryce Harper smacked the deciding home run in the eighth inning and the Philadelphia Phillies advanced to the World Series on Sunday with a 4-3 victory over San Diego.

The Phillies reached Major League Baseball’s playoff championship final for the first time in 13 years by defeating the Padres 4-1 in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.

“We’re going to celebrate,” said Rhys Hoskins, who smacked four homers for the Phillies in the series. “So much hard work has been done. It’s amazing. It has been a long time.

“We’ve got some work to do still, but National League champions, what a beautiful thing.”

The Phillies, in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, reached the World Series for the first time since 2009. They have not won the MLB crown since 2008.

“We always believed,” Harper said. “There was no emotion that it wasn’t going to happen, that we weren’t going to have this opportunity to be here.

“We’ve got four more (games to win for the title). Let’s go get it.”

The Phillies will open MLB’s best-of-seven final Friday on the road.

The Houston Astros can complete a sweep of the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series by winning later Sunday in New York.

The Astros seek their fourth trip in six seasons to the World Series, having won in 2017 but lost in 2019 and last year.

For the Phillies, it was a dramatic finish after they fell behind 3-2 only for Harper to deliver the game-winning blast in the eighth inning off a fastball from Padres relief pitcher Robert Suarez.

“I was seeing it better as the at-bat got longer and longer,” Harper said. “He beat me with the heater when we were in San Diego so I was just trying to stay on that pitch.

“I knew he was going to come with his heater. It’s his best pitch. I just tried to take the best swing I could and I was able to do damage with it. I was so excited to get back in the dugout and see my teammates.”

Harper became the first Philadelphia player in 41 years with a go-ahead homer so late in a playoff contest.

“We call him The Showman. He always has a knack for those moments,” said Hoskins. “He has his whole career. I dont think anybody in the dugout was surprised. What a swing. What an at-bat. What a player.”

The Padres haven’t reached the World Series since being swept by the Yankees in 1998.

- Phillies resilient -

San Diego starting pitcher Yu Darvish, a 36-year-old Japanese right-hander, and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler, a 32-year-old US right-hander, dueled in a light rain over the early innings.

Darvish struck out five and scattered four hits over six innings for the Padres.

Hoskins smacked his fifth homer of the playoffs, a two-run blast in the third off Darvish, to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.

Juan Soto answered for the Padres on a solo homer in the fifth.

San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth singled to open the seventh inning and send Wheeler to the showers after he struck out eight and allowed only three hits.

The Phillies brought in reliever Seranthony Dominguez, whose wild pitch allowed Cronenworth to take second base, and Josh Bell followed with a double to the wall to bring in Cronenworth with the tying run.

Dominguez then issued two wild pitches to Trent Grisham, allowing pinch-runner Jose Azocar to score the go-ahead run as San Diego seized a 3-2 advantage.

Philadelphia’s J.T. Realmuto singled to set up Harper’s dramatic blast but the Padres put two runners in scoring position in the ninth only for Phillies reliever Ranger Suarez to enter and get the final two outs to secure the victory.

“This is the most resilient club I’ve ever been around,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.