Howard’s huge blast can’t save Phils

Posted: June 27, 2007

Ryan Howard couldn't save the Phillies this time.

He crushed a 505-foot home run over the tall brick wall in center field in the fifth inning tonight to hand the Phillies a three-run lead against the Cincinnati Reds. And with the Phillies down a run with two outs and runners at the corners in the eighth, Howard stepped up with another chance to give his team the lead. But Howard struck out looking on a 1-2 pitch he considered high in the strike zone to end the inning in a 9-6 loss.

But no one could pin this loss on Howard.

This one belonged to the bullpen.

Phillies lefthander Jamie Moyer had thrown six scoreless innings to extend his scoreless streak to 16 innings - he had a no-hitter with two outs in the sixth inning - but found trouble in the seventh. He allowed a leadoff single to Jeff Conine and walked Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases.

The Phillies' bullpen took over from there, and faltered as the Reds scored six runs in the inning.

Geoff Geary faced five batters before Charlie Manuel pulled him, but not after their 3-0 lead had turned into a 4-3 deficit. Geary allowed three hits, one walk (intentional) and recorded one out. Since May 11, he has an 8.53 ERA and has allowed seven of 14 inherited runners to score. Lefthander Mike Zagurski, who replaced Geary, allowed two more runs to score to make it 6-3. Zagurski has allowed six of 13 inherited runners to score this season.

The Phillies scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game.

But again, the bullpen couldn't hold it.

Brian Sanches hit Encarnacion with an 0-2 pitch to put the leadoff runner aboard in the eighth, and it cost him. Encarnacion moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Javier Valentin's double to right off Ryan Madson.

The Phillies wouldn't come back this time, and Jose Mesa added insult to injury when he served up a two-run homer to Dunn in the top of the ninth inning.

Both runs were unearned because of an error at first base by Howard.

The Phillies fell into a second-place tie in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves, 31/2 games behind the New York Mets.

Howard's homer in the fifth inning was the longest in the ballpark's history. It also was his 100th career homer.

Howard has hit 100 homers in 325 games, which makes him the fastest player in major-league history to reach that mark. He surpassed Ralph Kiner, who needed 385 games to hit 100.

The Phillies first baseman is hitting .257 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in just 59 games this season. He is hitting .301 (34 for 113) with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in 30 games since he returned from the disabled list May 25 in Atlanta.

Howard entered the night ranked fifth in the National League in home runs and sixth in RBIs.

He is making a strong case for a spot on the National League all-star roster, even though he started the season slowly and spent 15 days on the disabled list in May with a strained left quadriceps. He might not have the batting average, but Milwaukee's Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy, Cincinnati's Dunn and Florida's Miguel Cabrera are the only other players in the league who rank in the top 10 in home runs and RBIs.

Incredibly, Howard, the reigning National League MVP, does not rank in the top five in fan voting for first basemen.

It marked the third time in the ballpark's history that a ball cleared the "batter's eye," the tall brick wall in center. Howard hit one of the shots on April 23, 2006, against Florida Marlins righthander Sergio Mitre. That one traveled an estimated 496 feet. Chase Utley hit one April 23 this season against Houston Astros righthander Dave Borkowski. That ball hit off the top of the wall and skipped over at an estimated 450 feet.

But the buzz in the ballpark tonight eroded a couple of innings after Howard's homer.

The game ended with pinch-hitter Pat Burrell grounding out. It seemed a fitting end.


Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/zozone.

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