Well, things worked out pretty nicely for the Fightins last night. The bullpen in question performed excellently allowing just one hit and three walks over the course of 8 2/3 innings. Brito, White, Fultz, Gordon, Geary, and Madson did extremely well to restore confidence in the beleaguered relieving corps. Most impressive were the entirely different situations in which they were used in each game. Randy Wolf left the first game after allowing five runs in two innings. Brito and company went on to pitch seven innings of no-hit ball to give the Phils a chance to comeback and take the lead. The offense took advantage and mounted their biggest comeback victory (down five runs) all season – kudos also go to the Braves’ Matt Diaz for getting turned around on and dropping a Dellucci line drive for the game-winner. The backend of the doubleheader witnessed another solid late-season performance by Jon Lieber, who earned his fourth straight win. He left the game in the eighth with the score 5-2 in favor of the Phillies. Aaron Fultz and Geoff Geary each recorded an out to end the inning. After the Phils scored two more in the top of the ninth, Tom Gordon sat back down and Ryan Madson came in to seal the victory. The bullpen performed well in both situations, but there’s no time for them to rest on their laurels, there’s still 17 games remaining to be played.
One concern that does arise from last night’s games lies in the drop off of Ryan Howard’s home run production. He has not hit a home run in four games! This aberration has occurred only nine times all season. Ryno is supposed to hit a home run on average once every ten at bats. He’s gone 11 without one! While under most normal circumstances this should be cause for concern, I think we can rest assured that he will explode for a couple tonight. If not, come look for me teetering on the edge of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
In all seriousness, there’s been a lot written about Ryan Howard in the past few weeks and much of it comes within the context the large shadow cast upon baseball by steroids. Dan LeBatard in the upcoming ESPN Magazine (ESPN Insider) writes about how Howard has become a victim of circumstance. "Howard could be the unharmed infant, still in the car seat, cooing and innocent on the side of the road. It’s just that so much of what surrounds him is mangled metal and 19-car pileup." Even amidst this environment, most, including LeBatard, believe (or choose to believe) Howard is clean. A cover story in yesterday’s USA Today had this to say:
In this home run chase, there are no steroid allegations. No congressional hearings. Steroid testing, which existed every year Howard was in the minors, is now in the major leagues, too. He has never played a professional season without being tested.
"The only juicing Ryan has ever done is apple or orange," says older brother Chris, associate athletics director of compliance at LSU. "Anyone who knows us can tell you that he is the smallest boy in the family." Howard’s twin, Corey, who played basketball in high school and eventually got a law degree, is 6-6, 250. Chris is 6-5, 270.
Scott Miller from CBSSportsline.com wrote recently about how the whiff of allegations sit with Jerry Lafferty, the Phillies scout that discovered Howard:
Consequently, a guy like Howard, presumably clean, still can’t escape some questions as to whether his power output might be in part because he may have found baseball’s HGH loophole.
There is zero hard evidence, other than him gaining some weight as he has grown up. But yes, when the subject is even hinted at in this era of suspicion, the echoes extend much further than your basic cell phone coverage.
"It is personally insulting to me," Lafferty says. "I’ve known this young man … I haven’t been with him 24 hours a day, but I know him. I know his parents. This is a question with no validity. This is an honest young man. I’ll tell you what, it just makes me hot."
There are plenty more articles on this topic, but they all seems to say the same thing. While Ryan Howard’s growth and testing history have vindicated him from some other home run hitting peers, his run for home run records will always be surrounded not only by questions of his use, but more importantly by the rehashing of the steroid saga made fools out of the fans. Luckily, Ryan isn’t the kind of guy to get wrapped up in these ancillary topics, he remains committed to doing his job and keeping me off the bridges.