This week we’re counting down the top 10 moments of the 2016 Phillies season.
Here is No. 4.
4. A blast from the past
In the early stages of the 2016 season, the Phillies were good.
They overcame an 0-4 start to rise above .500 by April 27 against Washington Nationals, then continued winning as the Cleveland Indians came to town.
On April 29, nearly 20,000 watched in Citizens Bank Park as Adam Morgan made his return to the Phillies rotation. He was stepping in for Charlie Morton, who unfortunately suffered a hamstring injury and was lost for the season after only a handful of starts. And against Cleveland, Morgan battled successfully until the fifth, when he allowed pitcher Corey Kluber, Rajai Davis and Jason Kipnis to hit him consecutively. Double. Single. Home run. 3-0 Indians.
Now, the 2015 Phillies nearly lost 100 games, partly because the offense failed to hit good pitching. And Kluber is good pitching. The 2014 Cy Young award winner followed up with a very good 2015 campaign, and though he had gotten off to a slow start in 2016, he was coming off an eight-inning, two-hit gem against Detroit. Chances were that with a 3-0 lead, Kluber wouldn’t have much trouble against the lowly Phillies.
But as I said, in the early stages of the 2016 season, the Phillies were good.
So Ryan Howard led off the bottom of the fifth with a double. Then Carlos Ruiz doubled. Cesar Hernandez hit what looked like a groundout, but a Mike Napoli error put him on first. David Lough singled to score Ruiz, and Darin Ruf hit a double play ball, which luckily came with nobody out. Hernandez scored and the game was tied at three, just like that.
Then the dance began, with the Phils’ Andrew Bailey striking out four in two innings, while Kluber set down the Phils with three strikeouts in two innings. In the eighth, Elvis Araujo worked around danger, and Bryan Shaw picked off Odubel Herrera. Hector Neris was lights-out in the top of the ninth, and Zach McAllister ensured Emmanuel Burriss would end the bottom half. David Hernandez strode in for the Phils in the 10th and was masterful, striking out Tyler Naquin, Davis and Kipnis.
Former Phillie Jeff Manship then entered for the Indians, and it looked as if the Phils would finally end the tilt. Lough opened with a single but was forced out at second on an Andres Blanco grounder. Then Peter Bourjos slashed a double down the left field line; with Lough on base the game might’ve ended, but with Blanco huffing around the bases, the stop sign came up. With runners at second and third and one out, Manship intentionally walked Herrera.
But no. It’s true that in the early stages of the 2016 season, the Phillies were good. Even if, ultimately, that would prove false and the summer would draw out as one long slog to another bottom-of-the-league finish, we had that truth, even for a moment.
But if there was any season-long truth that wouldn’t prove false, it was that Ryan Howard would be ending his Phillies career in 2016. The Phillies may be good in April and may stink by June, but we did know Howard was leaving us. The ups and downs, the frustrations and wild excitement – all would finally end when the final pitch was thrown.
Howard led off the 11th inning against Cleveland’s Allen. He took Allen to a 3-2 count. Some fans stood in the blistering cold, in coats and sweatshirts as if it was mid-October once again. And Howard got the pitch he wanted and struck it good, belting the ball over the fence in right field, delivering his sixth-career walk-off home run, ending the game, sending the fans into a frenzy and moving the Phillies to 13-10.
It wouldn’t stop there. The Phils would sweep Cleveland thanks to some great pitching. After the series, pundits began questioning the Indians’ talent level, as they were a hot pick to win the American League.
Well, things change. Six months later the Indians would capture the American League pennant, and the Phillies would be watching from afar, dead before the fall with a 71-91 record.
But in the early stages of the 2016 season, the Phillies were good. And Howard supplied a thunderous memory that will ultimately live on in our minds. And that’s a pretty good takeaway.