The New York Mets and a slew of their supportive fans took over Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon. The Mets posted a 5-3 win over the Phillies and streamed out of the dugout like school children at recess to celebrate clinching a National League wild-card playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season (see Instant Replay).
As the Mets players congratulated each other on the diamond, several thousand of their vocal fans cheered in the stands while Phillies fans headed to the exits longing for those days when their team used to have celebrations on the field.
There was a moment in the game, however, when it did feel like the good ol’ days at the ballpark, a moment when Ryan Howard owned the place like he used to and the Phillies fans drowned out the Mets fans with ease.
It came in the fifth inning when the Phillies were down by two runs and Howard came to the plate and turned on a pitch from Bartolo Colon and sent it into the right-field seats for a game-tying two-run home run. Phillies fans had seen Howard hit homers like this before because many of the 382 he has hit in his career have been clutch shots that have come in big moments, and though the Phillies have long been dead in the standings, this was an important game and thus a big moment because the Mets had a lot to play for and no competitor worth his salt would let another team walk on him.
The game didn’t stay tied long as reliever Patrick Schuster allowed a hit and a wild pitch in the top of the sixth before David Hernandez surrendered a two-run homer to James Loney as the Mets went up for good.
But at least Howard gave the Phillies fans in the house something to cheer about for a short while.
“It was cool,” Howard acknowledged after the game. “I was able to hit the home run, tying the game up. I tried to spoil it for them today a little bit, but they got us, and you’ve got to congratulate those guys because they scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. That’s a good ball club.”
Howard’s home run, of course, was cool for another reason.
It might have been his last as a Phillie.
This is the veteran slugger’s final weekend with the team he helped win the 2008 World Series and a little love-in has developed between him and the fans. They gave him a standing ovation after the homer – his 25th of the season – and he responded with a curtain call.
“It was awesome,” he said. “To be able to hit the home run in the first place and then get the curtain call. To have the fans show that kind of appreciation is a great feeling.”
The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017. On Sunday afternoon, he will play his final game for the Phillies. First pitch is at 3 p.m. The team will make an on-field presentation to Howard at 2:30.
Howard doesn’t know what the team has planned.
“I’m just going to show up and see what happens,” he said. “You know, I think it’ll be something cool. We’ll see what it is. Whatever it brings, I'll embrace it and take it and enjoy it."
Howard had spent the previous few days stiff-arming the attention that has come with his final days as a Phillie.
He put his guard down a little after Saturday’s game.
“I’m just taking the weekend as is,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, trying to embrace everything and take it as is. I’m not trying to look too much into anything. Actually, I’m just trying to go out there and win these ballgames. I mean, I’ve said it before, things will hit you when they hit you.”
The Phillies have not been to the playoffs since 2011, their last of five straight trips to the postseason. If anyone needed a reminder of what it used to look like around here, it was on the field after the game in the form of the Mets’ celebration.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin did not watch the Mets celebrate. He’s waiting to experience a celebration of his own.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get back where we need to be and we’re going to be one of those teams, just like the Mets are now,” Mackanin said.
Howard will turn 37 in November. He is the elder statesman on this club and he’s embraced that role in his dealings with younger players.
He used the Mets’ celebration as an opportunity to pass on some advice to the men who are his teammates for one more day.
“You never want to see somebody else celebrate on your home field, but for these young guys it's something where once you’ve seen it, you want to be those guys," Howard said. "When you see the other team out there, you want to be that guy next year. You want to be out there celebrating on your home field or somebody else's field.
“It's tough, but you take that and find a way to use that as motivation.”