It was one year ago when the Phillies had disposed of the Milwaukee Brewers, setting up an NLCS meeting with the Dodgers. Shane Victorino grabbed the spotlight with a grand slam off of CC Sabathia, and Cole Hamels worked his magic in the first round, which was just the beginning of an unforgettable playoff run.
A person noticeably missing from the fun was Ryan Howard. Through the first six games of the postseason last year, Howard struggled to find his groove. He registered just two hits in 19 at-bats over that time frame, and didn’t go yard until Game 3 of the World Series. I’m guessing the Colorado Rockies would take that same stat line right now.
Because Howard was as instrumental as any Phillie during this just-finished four-gamer over the Rox, mostly due to his plate discipline and timely hitting. With five hits in 11 at-bats, Colorado had no choice but to pitch to him because the guys around him produced. Chase Utley hit .429 in the series from the three-hole, and reached base over 50 percent of the time. Batting fifth in the order, Jayson Werth finished with a .357 average and slugged over .900 in the series. The Rockies pitched to Howard, albeit with bated breath, and it paid off in spades for the Phillies.
Just when you thought a strikeout was inevitable, The Big Piece came through with a base knock. Just when you imagined him flailing at a slider down and away, he sharpens his eye and locks in on the strike zone. Ryan Howard finally became a force to be reckoned when the game, and possibly the season, was on the line.
The new and improved Howard came full circle in the ninth inning of the Game 4 comeback on Monday night. Facing the harsh reality of a Game 5 back here in Philly, Howard wrung his hands around the maple and dug in. With Victorino standing at second base, and Utley put aboard on a walk, Colorado closer Huston Street had no choice but to pitch to the Big Guy. After three straight four-seam fastballs on the outer edge, Street left one over the middle of the plate, and Howard made him pay by popping the thin-air balloon surrounding Coors Field.
By depositing that ball off the right field fence, he became Mr. Rocktober. And although he has an MVP award and a ring, its nights like this that elevate players to legendary status. Today, we spell redemption R-Y-A-N.