The Phillies Won a Game Because Ryan Howard Went Yard

The Phillies Won a Game Because Ryan Howard Went Yard

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With a dinger roughly every 13 at bats, Ryan Howard is Major League Baseball's active career leader in home runs per at bat. It took 18 trips to belt his first in 2012, but the timing could not have been much better.

The Big Piece made a new friend out in L.A. on Monday night. With Ted Lilly on the disabled list, 22-year-old Nate Eovaldi has been pressed into the Dodgers' rotation for the past month and a half, and Howard took to the young right-hander immediately. He gave one a ride to the left field wall for a long out on his first at bat. On the second, he finally got it over the top.

That solo shot in the fourth inning proved to be the game's decisive run, as Jimmy Rollins had a blast himself, and Juan Pierre chipped in an RBI in a 3-2 Phillies victory to open the series with Los Angeles. It's the Fightins' third win in a row, for those of you still keeping track.

While Howard will get most of the pub today, Joe Blanton arguably had the biggest hand in a huge win for the Phils. Blanton worked eight tremendous frames, holding the Dodgers to six hits and walking zero. When they did manage to get on the board in the sixth and seventh, Heavy B prevented those from becoming bigger innings, which is the main reason RyHo's homer can stand as the headliner.

The W is number eight of the season for Blanton. Jonathan Papelbon did his thing in the ninth to pick up his 20th save.

However, the story really is Howard, both because he hasn't fared too well in his short time back, but also that it's refreshing to see a visual reminder of the way he can impact games with one swing of the lumber. So far, he's 3-for-20 with a couple of walks.

Let's be honest: it's difficult to set expectations for Ryan Howard this season. The Inquirer's Phil Sheridan wrote yesterday if Piece is on the field and earning $20 million, it's reasonable to expect he perform up to that. Then again, he's not quite healthy, and how long will it take until the timing is there? Probably a lot faster if opposing teams keep feeding him Eovaldis, but we know that's not always the case.

Monday gave us reason to be excited about his progress though. He still has a ways to go obviously, but it appears at the very least Howard is still a danger to fans sitting in outfield seats at ballparks everywhere. These are exactly the kind of big hits the Phillies have missed all too often this year.

Going back to 2004, Ryan Howard homers once every 13.3 at bats. To put that in perspective, that's basically every five games. If he posts a figure even close to that the rest of the way, the Phillies clearly will win more frequently -- and maybe just maybe make this second half interesting after all.

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

CAMDEN, N.J. — Thursday is significant for the Sixers beyond the trade deadline. It is also the day of Ben Simmons' CT scan to evaluate how his right foot is healing.

"I feel like tomorrow at some point we're all going to be able to lay out a more genuine plan for him," Brett Brown said. "I feel like we're going to be good to go with some greater news and a more advanced detail of his plans after this scan."

Once all parties involved assess the results, the team will provide an update, which may not be Thursday. Simmons has been sidelined all season after suffering a Jones fracture during the final scrimmage of training camp. 

On Wednesday he went through his individual workout plan, which included five-on-none scripting with teammates.

"He's still getting a feel for all of us," Nerlens Noel said. "He's learning to throw it up to me, bounce pass to whoever. It's learning certain tendencies that'll make you start to feel more a part of the team."

The Sixers have not placed a timetable on Simmons' return. The first overall pick has not been cleared for full contact five-on-five practice, the next step in his recovery. Prior to the All-Star break, Brown said he expects Simmons will play at some point this season. He stands by that projection with 26 games remaining. 

"I personally would like to see him play this season. I don't backpedal from that," Brown said. "I think my comments are really very much influenced by his reciprocal desire to play this year, which we all respect. Everybody's got clandestine conspiracy theories on why he might not want to play. I know in my heart and speaking to him, he wants to get on a court and play basketball again.

"I hope he can do that too. If for some reason he can't, we'll deal with it. But I think it would help him to play NBA basketball and get his competitive juices going again if the doctors point us in that direction."

Simmons' teammates are ready to welcome him into the mix when he is given the green light. Their limited glimpses into his talent have them eager for his debut.

"Unlimited potential," Noel said. "I think with Ben, the thing that makes him so special is his IQ for the game, a sixth sense on the court. Him being able to find little things that not very many 6-10 guys can find. I think that's going to propel his game and make him a special player in this league." 

Added Joel Embiid: "I'm excited ... I thought he was our best player in training camp."

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers looked around the court on Wednesday and knew it could be their last practice all together.

The NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Thursday. The Sixers are scheduled to practice that day, but who is there for it remains to be seen.

“Honestly, I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Joel Embiid said. “Hopefully I’m here and hopefully my teammates are here. We’ve been playing great basketball when we are healthy and we all play. Hopefully we keep the same group and you never know what can happen.”

The Sixers have stayed tight knit through losing, ups and downs and trade talks. In their ideal world, they would remain teammates for the rest of the season. In the basketball world, there is a strong possibility at least one of them will be moved.

“You’ve learned that you’re not confident on anything,” Brett Brown said when asked about having the same players after the deadline. “There’s nothing that would point to either my 16 years of experience in the league or my three previous trade situations here in Philadelphia that would make me say anything otherwise. We’ve maintained a very high level of transparency with my team. We talk freely. It doesn’t feel as dramatic perhaps as it might have in other years.”

Jahlil Okafor has been the focal point of trade discussions. The Sixers were close to a deal for him last week, to the point where they sat him out two games and did not send him to Charlotte. Okafor will keep his phone close as the deadline approaches.

“I did the best I can to just focus in with the guys [at practice], going over the plays and working on defense,” Okafor said. “But it was definitely on my mind that I could be out of here tomorrow.”

Okafor said he would not have hard feelings if a deal did not happen after being on the trading block. At the same time, he just wants to know what his NBA future holds.

“If the Sixers decide to keep me, I’ll be happy," he said. "I have amazing teammates that I love being with every day and I’ll go back to my everyday routine. If that’s here or somewhere else, I’m just ready for 3 o’clock to happen so I can continue with my career and start doing what I love to do, and that’s play basketball.”

The Sixers' trade talks, to this point, have centered around the bigs because of a logjam in the frontcourt. At the start of the season Nerlens Noel said the team had to make a change. Noel said he was not worried about the deadline and noted the Sixers' first practice after the All-Star break was upbeat, not anxious.

“It’s been such a long season with so many things that were said, so now at this point it’s whatever happens happens,” Noel said.

So who will stay and who will go? With the Sixers' roster in question, Embiid summed up the trade deadline in Embiid fashion.

“It’s business,” Embiid said. “Anything can happen. So you’ve got to trust the process, I guess.”