PHOENIX – Ryan Howard got an earful from a heckler all afternoon. If it wasn’t Mother’s Day, the leather-lunged fan might have insulted Howard’s mom, too.
And, yes, Howard heard the guy.
Howard had the last wise crack Sunday afternoon. Actually it was the crack of his bat. His two-run single in the 10th inning capped a furious comeback and lifted the Phillies to a 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Sunday afternoon (see Instant Replay).
“You hear all that stuff,” Howard said of the heckler. “I didn’t hear him after I got that hit, though.”
Howard entered that at-bat in the throes of an 0 for 18 skid. He had struck out 10 times in that span. He was hitless in Arizona and surely the folks back home were getting on him even harder than the guy in the box seats.
Howard’s go-ahead hit came an inning after Delmon Young and Domonic Brown had RBI hits to tie the game. (Brown accounted for two runs in the game because he robbed a home run from Eric Chavez in left field in the third inning.) Howard’s hit scored Jimmy Rollins (single) and Chase Utley, who doubled in the ninth and 10th and scored two runs.
The hit, a hard liner to right over a drawn-in shift, came against a lefty, Matt Reynolds. Some interesting numbers there: Howard had been 6 for 37 (.162) against lefties before the at-bat and Reynolds hadn’t allowed a run in 17 2/3 innings this season.
Even though the roof was closed at Chase Field, the sun shined on the Phillies.
“I just tried to hit it,” Howard said. “Stop thinking. Don’t try to think. Just see it and hit it.”
The Phils went home with a 4-3 trip and, despite being three games under .500, are just four games behind first-place Atlanta, losers of three straight in San Francisco, in the NL East.
The trip actually could have been a lot better if the Phils could have sustained some offense. All three of the losses were by one run. They scored a total of six runs in those games.
“We can’t do anything about those games,” said manager Charlie Manuel, whose team has scored two or fewer runs in 16 of 39 games. “They’re gone. Dead and gone. We can’t do anything about them. But we can do something about the one we’ll play Tuesday night.”
As he rang up strikeouts and made right turns back to the dugout over four days in Phoenix, Howard’s frustration level grew.
“I don’t know if I could put it into words,” he said. “Definitely frustrating. Upset. Pissed off. But I just tried to continue to try to separate each at-bat. And I was able to get one to fall.”
Manuel stuck with Howard during the slump because Howard is always one swing away from a hot streak. Howard rewarded Manuel’s patience.
“He has a knack for knocking in runs,” Manuel said. “When he’s going bad, it looks bad. But he can take one swing and it gets you back in the game. He is the big RBI guy on this team.
“When he hits streaks where he strikes out a lot, he gets upset. But he hung in there. Over the course of the year that’s how you get to be a good team – by staying after it. You never quit. You always play the game out. As long as you have a chance, you can take a swing and be a hero on that day. This was a good example of that.”
There were other big contributors to this win.
Start with Arizona manager Kirk Gibson who removed his starter, Brandon McCarthy, at 88 pitches after he’d allowed just seven singles over eight shutout innings.
Gibson would not specify why he removed McCarthy.
“I did what I thought was the right move and it didn’t work out,” he said. “We didn’t execute pitches when our relievers came in.”
The Phils’ ninth-inning rally came against Health Bell, who blew the save. Jonathan Papelbon nailed down the save for the Phillies. He got eight outs in less than 24 hours in two wins.
The Phillies also received excellent relief work from Justin De Fratus in the ninth. Just up from Triple A, he struck out dangerous Paul Goldschmidt (.304, 9 homers, 30 RBIs) on a full-count fastball to end the frame with the winning run at first. De Fratus was in the game because Mike Adams had back spasms.
“I just wanted to go out there and attack him,” De Fratus said
That attitude is refreshing. De Fratus will get more chances.
Starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick also delivered for his club. He allowed a leadoff homer in the first inning and gave up a second run after catcher Erik Kratz had botched a rundown. But Kendrick never broke. He did not give up another run the remainder of his seven innings. He kept his team in the game until the bats thawed after Gibson went to his bullpen.
“It was great,” Howard said of the comeback. “Great. We’ve been trying to force some late-inning comebacks. Hopefully we can stretch that out to earlier and the mid-part of the game. But better late and never.”