Ryan Howard's clutch double helps Phillies sweep Mets

Ryan Howard's clutch double helps Phillies sweep Mets

April 28, 2013, 6:30 pm
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NEW YORK – A shutout on Friday night. Back-to-back home runs on the way to nine runs Saturday. A late-game rally to break open a close game Sunday.

Maybe the Phillies are starting to put something together.

“We’re playing sounder baseball, better baseball,” manager Charlie Manuel said late Sunday afternoon, after his inconsistent club showed three days worth of consistency in completing a sweep of the New York Mets with a 5-1 win at Citi Field (see Instant Replay).

The three wins left the Phillies at 12-14 heading into Monday’s off day.

If chins were scraping the ground when the Phils headed to New York on Thursday after losing three straight to the Pirates, they were noticeably higher when the team headed out the clubhouse door Sunday en route to its off day in Cleveland.

“The season can be a roller-coaster ride,” said Laynce Nix, a key contributor in Sunday’s win. “It was great to get this win. The thing we know is we can turn it around pretty quick and we will.”

Ryan Howard had the game’s big hit, a two-run, pinch-hit double to break a 1-1 tie with two outs in the top of the seventh.

But the hits that preceded Howard’s shot were just as important.

Nix started the three-run rally with a two-out, pinch-hit single. The hit came three pitches after he could have been retired with the third out of the frame. He lifted a pop up toward the Phillies’ dugout. Third baseman David Wright and catcher John Buck converged on the ball. Buck took charge and tried to make the play, but it popped out of his glove for an error because it extended the at-bat.

That Nix made good on his second life wasn’t all that surprising. He is 7 for 13 as a pinch-hitter this season.

Nix’ pinch-hit might just have been a footnote had Jimmy Rollins not followed with an excellent nine-pitch at-bat that resulted in a hit against starting pitcher Jonathon Niese.

Rollins’ hit chased Niese from the game as the Mets went to right-hander Scott Atchison.

Enter Howard.

He had been held out of the starting lineup because he was 1 for 15 with seven strikeouts against Niese. With Niese out and Atchison in, Manuel sent up Howard to pinch-hit for Kevin Frandsen. The move paid huge dividends when Howard made it three straight Phillies’ hits with a long, two-run double to center. Chase Utley then followed with an RBI single to make it, 4-1. Four hits, three runs, all after a two-out error.

The Phillies got a break.

And they capitalized.

The seventh-inning uprising made a winner out of Cole Hamels, who was good (eight strikeouts) and bad (six walks) all in the same day. The good outweighed the bad as Hamels got important outs when he had to and limited the Mets to just one run until the offense arrived.

After Hamels left, the trio of Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon made it all stand up.

Despite being held out of the starting lineup, Howard did not view his day at the ballpark as, well, an off day.

He worked in the batting cage and tried to anticipate a moment when he’d be called upon to hit.

“Even though you don’t start the game, you remain mentally in the game,” he said. “You do things to keep yourself loose and in the flow of the game because you know there will eventually be a situation where you’ll come up and hit. And it’s usually a situation where you can turn the tide of the game. I’m just trying to stay ready for that moment.”

Howard’s work as a pinch-hitter in his career is outstanding. He is 16 for 38 with five doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs.

The Phillies had been 0-5 in games started by Hamels. Now they are 1-5.

The left-hander has been a bit of a mystery. Known for excellent control, he has walked 17 batters in 37 2/3 innings over six starts. He did not walk his 17th batter until his 12th start last season. Lack of pitch economy was the reason Hamels only went six innings Sunday. That didn’t sit well with him.

 “I wasn’t able to get ahead of hitters,” he said. “I was throwing all four pitches at times effectively and at other times ineffectively. I was able to throw them for strikes and balls.

“I would like have gone deeper into the game. But ultimately we were able to get those runs in the seventh inning and get the win. I’m happy about that.”

The sweep was the Phillies’ first of the season.

“To come in here and sweep a tough team like the Mets and try to get us on a good roll with momentum – that’s what we needed,” Hamels said.