Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

ap-phillies-howard-slam.jpg

Phillies sweep Astros behind Ryan Howard slam

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The last two weeks have been filled with highs and lows for Ryan Howard.

This was most definitely a high.

Howard capped a terrific at-bat -- “A battling at-bat,” manager Ryne Sandberg said -- with a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Phillies to a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).

Howard’s 18th homer of the season and team-record 13th grand slam came with two outs in the inning against lefty Tony Sipp. It capped a five-run rally, got emergency starter Sean O’Sullivan off the hook as he was staring at a loss, and gave the Phillies a three-game sweep of the Astros.

“Howie comes through huge like that and it’s a happy clubhouse at the end of the night,” said O’Sullivan, who earlier in the day was summoned from Toledo, Ohio, where he was with the Triple A Lehigh Valley club, to make the start after Roberto Hernandez was traded to the Dodgers (see story). “At the end of the day, all that matters is that we got the W.”

The clubhouse wasn’t the only happy place.

In the seats, 26,609 fans were also pretty happy when Howard connected off Sipp. They pushed Howard around the bases with a standing ovation then lured him from the dugout with a curtain call, quite a different scene than the boos Howard heard when he was struggling in June and landed on Sandberg’s bench for three days.

“It is what it is,” Howard said of the polar opposite reactions. “I mean, it’s unfortunate. I’ll be honest with you, it’s unfortunate that’s what happens. But I’ll go out there and continue to play. I understand what it takes to play the game.”

As Howard reached home plate after his grand slam, he pointed toward the stands.

“I was pointing at my family,” he said. “It wasn’t an I-showed-you.”

Howard was hitless in his first three at-bats with a pair of strikeouts against Houston starter Collin McHugh, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball.

One at-bat turned his and the Phillies’ night around.

“I understand it wasn’t there early, but it only had to be there once,” Howard said of his swing. “It was there with me and I’ll try to build off that.”

Howard was 5 for 14 with two home runs in the series against the Astros. He had come into the series in an 0-for-14 slump that was part of a 1-for-25 road trip.

Howard’s decisive grand slam finished off an at-bat in which he saw eight pitches, laid off two two-strike breaking balls in the dirt and fouled off four pitches. Eventually, Howard powered a full-count, 93 mph fastball over the wall just to the left of center field.

“He was real aggressive (in that at-bat),” Sandberg said. “He had really good swings. It looked like he wanted to do damage. That was a battling at-bat for him. He actually laid off some breaking balls down and that was the whole key, laying off of those pitches and making him come with a strike.”

Howard is just 9 for 47 (.191) in 12 games since his benching, but he does have three homers and 11 RBIs. His four RBIs on Thursday night moved him to third in the league with 71, just three behind NL leader Giancarlo Stanton.

“He’s been making better contact,” Sandberg said. “Even his outs on the road trip -- he was stinging the ball, putting the ball in play. He wasn’t quite lifting them to the gaps, but he was making a lot of contact and cutting down on his strikeouts, so that was really a step in the right direction. This series, he was able to connect on some balls and really gain a lot of confidence with the production and the hits.

“I just know he can be a big bat for us and if he gets rolling like he is he can help us sweep a series. A sweep at home, that’s pretty big for us this year. He was a big part of that.”

All of the Astros’ runs came on three home runs in the first three innings against O’Sullivan. The right-hander finished with three scoreless innings and reliever Mario Hollands added two scoreless frames to keep the game close for the Phillies’ eighth-inning rally.

O’Sullivan was summoned to Philadelphia about 1 p.m. He scurried to get on a flight and landed in Philadelphia at 5:30 p.m. He did not know he was pitching until he landed and turned on his phone. He arrived at the park at 6 p.m. and an hour later was on the mound.

O’Sullivan didn’t get the win, but, thanks to Ryan Howard, didn’t get the loss, either.

Pete Mackanin: Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was 'a helluva pitcher'

Pete Mackanin: Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was 'a helluva pitcher'

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

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NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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