Not many ball players have ever received a rousing ovation
for getting thrown out at third base, not the way Ryan Howard did at Citizens Bank
Park on Friday night.
The Big Piece had just hit his second home run in as many
days during the previous at bat, and fourth over the last nine games, so he was
understandably feeling a little frisky. Next time up Howard swept a double into
the right-field corner, a place where Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna was
experiencing some difficulty collecting the ball.
With the Phillies already ahead comfortably in the third
inning – 3-0 being considered comfortable when the opponent is the Miami
Marlins – Howard “made an executive decision.” He rounded second and charged
It turns out this Ozuna kid has a hose attached to his right arm, as
the 22 year old delivered a rope to cut-off man Donovan Solano, who in turn
fired the perfect relay throw to Placido Polanco as Howard belly-flopped
head-first at the third baseman’s feet. Polly applied the tag with several
moments to spare.
Then it happened. The fans… cheered. Howard… laughed, along
with his teammates in the dugout. Everything was okay.
It’s easy to forgive and forget when the mistake comes at
the hands of the Marlins, who predictably did not go on to put up much of a
fight in the Phils’ 4-1 victory. Miami’s record fell to 8-22 for the season,
tied with the Houston Astros in the American League for worst in Major League
There is something to be said for enjoying oneself at the
ball park though – no matter who you are – and Howard’s jaunt seemed to lighten
the air on the diamond for possibly the first time since spring training concluded. It
was about more than stretching a double into a triple.
It was about the Phillies feeling like their old selves again.
How well cleanup is swinging the bat of late is no doubt easing
some of the pressure inside the clubhouse as well. Howard has been hitting for
average since the first week of the season; now he’s starting to hit for power
and driving in runs. In the 10 games since April 22, Howard has notched 12 RBI
and crossed the plate eight times himself, while his slugging percentage has
risen more than .150 points.
And don’t look now, but Howard may just be beginning to
creep into the league leaders in certain categories amidst this current assault.
He moved into a tie for seventh in the National League with 14 extra base hits, and his five bombs, 18
RBI and a .519 slugging all crack the top 25.
Yes, Howard has also struggled in some aspects. He's tied for 54th out of 91 qualifiers in the NL with a .319 on-base percentage, a byproduct of his drawing a mere six walks to date. The contact numbers clearly are not bad at all however.
His was not the only bat to put on a show for the 36,292 in
attendance, either. Chase Utley (6) and Domonic Brown (5) added solo blasts of their own.
The fireworks display coupled with good vibes at Citizens
are a positive sign. The Phillies feasted at home during the run of success from
2007 to ‘11, posting a 246-162 record – an impressive .603 winning percentage. Compare that to last season when they finished just one game above .500 in South Philly.
So far the Phils are only 7-8 this year when they have home-field
advantage, a number that likely must be in their favor if they are to reach the
playoffs. Call it a comfort level, call it the dimensions of the stadium. For whatever
the reason, this group can get on a serious roll in their own building.
Sooner or later they have to beat a few
teams besides the Marlins and Mets no matter where the contests are held, yet all
things considered the Phillies are not in bad shape. Both the Braves and Nationals
lost on Friday, which puts the good guys just 3.5 back of first place.
The core may be getting old, or even feel like they have
something left to prove, but Howard and his mates should try to loosen up more
often. Who knows, maybe his hopeless attempt at third will rub off on a few of the guys, and the Fightins might continue to play like they actually like this
baseball thing again.
Judging from the final results here, it couldn't possibly be a bad thing.
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