Phillies' Howard seems to have found comfort zone

Ryan Howard drove in the tying runs in clinching NLDS win.
Ryan Howard drove in the tying runs in clinching NLDS win.
Posted: October 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES - It's fun Phillies legend already, that final inning in Colorado the other night.

"Just get me to the plate, fellas," Ryan Howard said repeatedly at the end of the Phillies' bench.

"I was thinking the same thing," said Jimmy Rollins, whose one-out single helped make that possible.

Chase Utley worked a laborious walk, a reflection of how this postseason has been different from the haggard end of his regular season, a reflection of how resting him late and the gaps between games have refreshed him a bit.

But the big postseason story so far is Howard, and how comfortable he seems to be. His two-run double in the ninth inning Monday night tied the score and gave him six RBI for the series. Six hits, three doubles, a .375 average.

Zero home runs.

"My confidence has always been high, always been the same," he was saying before the Phillies' workout yesterday. "It's just that sometimes you get overanxious. Antsy, chase bad pitches. Sometimes you try to make things happen instead of . . .

"Well, right now, I'm just kind of in a chill mode at the plate. I'm just trying to see pitches.''

Chill mode = hot hitter. Howard has learned this through experimentation, through the short, brief postseason taste of 2007, and through the long run of 2008.

That first year, in 2007, he entered the playoffs with five home runs and 11 RBI in his final six regular-season games. He hit just one in that NLDS against Colorado, a solo shot. He struck out seven times in 12 at-bats.

He was not in chill mode.

"It's an individual process," Rollins said. "You have to learn how to deal with it, how to breathe, how to think and not get caught up in the moment. Everyone handles it differently.''

Howard has learned to handle it, by forgetting who he is - to an extent. This time of year, he's not a cleanup hitter, he's just a hitter.

"Lay off pitches," he said. "Trying to take a step back and getting a good AB going."

Like so many Phillies, last year's run has led to additional poise for Howard. He began with only two hits and one RBI against the Brewers last October, finished by hitting three home runs and knocking in six runs during the World Series. He batted .300 against the Dodgers in the NLCS, but scored twice as many runs as he knocked in (2) and didn't hit one home run.

This year? "I think you're looking at a more experienced guy," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

"I guess you can say it's the experience," Howard said. "Knowing what the feel is like and knowing what the excitement is like and trying to calm yourself down."

And that's the way he was the other night on the bench, bat in hand, smile on his face. "Just get me to the plate, fellas," he said and said again. And when he got his chance, Howard worked a favorable 2-1 count and ripped his double into the rightfield corner.

"I just kind of felt if they got me up to the plate, we'd have a shot to win or tie the game," he said.

He didn't win the game. Jayson Werth's bloop did that.

He just did his part.

"To get the big hit, at the end of the game," Rollins said. "He looks forward to that moment now whenever he's out there."

Said Manuel: "The way he hits from the seventh inning speaks for itself. I can't say enough about him. I mean, he's better probably than we even think he is."

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