Phils' Howard makes Torre pay

Ryan Howard follows through on his two-run double in the fifth inning off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. The hit gave the Phillies a 5-1 lead.
Ryan Howard follows through on his two-run double in the fifth inning off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. The hit gave the Phillies a 5-1 lead.
Posted: October 16, 2009

LOS ANGELES - As Bunyanesque Ryan Howard lumbered menacingly toward home plate in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Joe Torre stayed stuck to his dugout's pine.

On the mound, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw was looking his age. At 21, struggling to find both the plate and his vanished poise, the lefthander clearly was past his curfew, even if his 69-year-old manager had not yet recognized that.

Three runs. Three walks. Three wild pitches. All in the fifth as the Phillies went from a 1-0 hole to a 3-1 lead in a game they would win, 8-6, at Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw had not been overpowering Howard. He had pitched to him cautiously in the fourth before walking him, and Howard had scalded a Kershaw fastball to the warning-track in left field in his first at-bat.

This time, as he so often does, the Phillies first baseman turned a manager's neglect into a painful lesson. His two-out double to right field scored Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and padded the Phillies' lead to 5-1.

"I wasn't sure" what Torre was going to do, Howard said. "I just went up there ready for whatever might happen, and I was fortunate enough to get a pitch to hit."

The two RBIs pushed Howard past Mike Schmidt as the Phillies' all-time postseason leader with 18. He accomplished that in just 22 games, while it took Schmidt 36 games to collect his 16.

Howard, like Schmidt and most players with his kind of power resume, goes through extended periods where he either soars or crashes.

But in these playoffs, and in fact for most of his career in the postseason, he's been up - patiently watching those down-and-away breaking balls that so bedevil him in slumps, hitting the ball hard the other way, and driving the pitches he's able to pull.

"If he could carry that through a whole season, there's no telling what kind of numbers he might put up," Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson said. "Since August he's been very patient. He carries us in August and had a solid September."

But Torre, who a day earlier had talked about how much he respected Howard, still elected to let a tiring, struggling Kershaw go after him.

"With that lineup the Phillies have, you can't really do what we did against St. Louis, walking [Albert] Pujols in tough spots and, no disrespect to Matt Holliday, making him beat you," Dodgers coach Larry Bowa said before the game. "That lineup over there is too good."

Against Colorado in the NLDS, Howard hit .375 with six RBIs, including the two he collected with a two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning double that tied Game 4.

With last night's double, Howard now has reached base safely in 18 consecutive postseason games and in all 11 of those played on the road.

"It's all part of good hitting," Howard said. "Go out there, be patient until you get a good pitch to hit. Try to select a good pitch and hit it."

In the ninth, trying to provide Brad Lidge with some insurance for the bottom of the inning in a game the Phils led, 8-6, he struck out.

"We won Game 1, and now that's put us in a position to go out and win Game 2," Howard said. "We're going to go out there and try to score as many runs as we possibly need to win the game."


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

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