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Howard, Phils Put On Their Big-Game Shoes

With the bright lights and millions of eyes fixed on Philadelphia tonight for a tilt between two class-A first place teams, the Phillies delivered in every aspect, defeating the Red Sox 8-2. It all looked good — Cole Hamels had his A-minus game; the bullpen did its yeoman’s job; the bottom of the order fed it to cool-shades Jimmy; and the Big Man stepped up big time.

Howard was the player, nailing two opposite field stingers in the first and third innings to help the Phillies to 4-0. But it was his later effort that defined his recent upswing. He slammed a Mike Timlin offering into center field, fixed on his third homer of the night. The outfield wind caught it, but the sure-handed Jacoby Ellsbury couldn’t, and as the ball trickled away, Howard busted into third base with his second triple of the season. It capped a 3-for-5, 4 RBI night for the slugger, and he’s now the National League co-leader (with Adrian Gonzalez) at 62. His 19 homers is good for second in the league.

Unreal statistic: Howard, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell have a combined 59 dingers. That’s more homers than the Mets, Rockies, Mariners, Nationals, Giants, Royals, Athletics, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Twins. (Howard and Utley together are three away from catching the Twins.)

Jimmy Rollins also blasted his sixth homer, an upper deck assault off Boston starter Bartolo Colon, who only went four innings. Timlin looked lost out there — besides him the formidable Red Sox bullpen showed their mettle. But there was no coming back — Hamels was dealing. He kept the swinging Sox on their toes on night, inducing many grounders and fly outs while mixing in his curveball. It wasn’t a dominant start by any means, but a great pitcher using all his stuff usually works. He struck out five in seven innings, spraying seven hits and two walks. He never was in much trouble, sans back-to-back homers by Dustin Pedroia (who figured out Hamels) and the hated JD Drew.

Almost as important as his pitching, Hamels did his part with his bat. He singled in the seventh, but his big effort came with a nice sacrifice bunt in the sixth. Moving Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz over, he gave Rollins a chance to collect some ribbies. A single did the trick. Rollins went 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs.

Chad Durbin (we need a nickname for him) cleaned up, getting the Sox out on three pitches in the eighth and shutting them down relatively easily in the ninth.

Sum it up and it’s a complete victory for the Phils, who put on a nice show for the cameras and standing-room only crowd. So far, it’s a very good indication of what the rest of the season may shape up to become.

Associated Press photo

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