Rich Hofmann: Status, stats still growing for Phillies' NLCS MVP Howard

Ryan Howard hoists the MVP trophy.
Ryan Howard hoists the MVP trophy.
Posted: October 22, 2009

THE TEMPTATION toward anticlimax exists, absurd as that sounds. The second time around for the Phillies is not the same as the first.

From a distance, the celebrations last year seemed more like destinations. The celebrations this year seem more like steps. The accomplishments last year seemed monumental. The accomplishments this year seem incremental.

The thrills were the same and the ballpark was the same, all red, all rollicking, all roar. When the Phillies got done dismembering the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching staff last night at Citizens Bank Park, 10-4, the scene was as you would expect. You could have closed your eyes at 11:47 p.m. and still accurately pictured the rush to the mound to greet pitcher Brad Lidge. You have seen it.

You have felt it. You know.

But even with that, there was always something beyond. And now the Phillies' eyes can rightfully focus on what the city's eyes have been focused on for a year. Now they can all look, finally, hungrily, toward another World Series - led by their most valuable player, Ryan Howard, who hit .333 in the National League Championship Series, with two home runs and eight RBI.

On a team of seemingly starving champions, Howard might just have looked the hungriest of all.

"We've still got one more step to go," Howard said, his head covered by a

National League championship hat, his eyes covered by swim goggles, his person covered in champagne.

"It's something I've been saying," he said. "You just try and take it all in stride. The first step is making the playoffs. The second step is trying to get to the National [League] Championship Series. The third step is trying to get to the World

Series. We've achieved our third step. The next step is just going out there and trying to win.

"We've been a confident team all year. We've just believed in ourselves and

we're going to continue to believe in

ourselves."

Howard continues to forge a reputation that likely will endure, long after he is done. This is not to begin a Hall of Fame conversation, because he is miles away from that - and he did get a late start in his career. What this is, simply, is to

acknowledge what everyone has already seen around here: that Howard has become a money player at the money time of the year, and he has just extended that ability as the Phillies have extended their seasons.

We all know what kind of player he has been in September during his career. But this October, especially, has been the official taking of the next step. Last night's game was the first of the postseason in which Howard did not have an RBI

(although he did walk twice and score a run), but that isn't it. For the record, his 2009 postseason numbers so far, through nine games: .355, with two homers and

14 RBI.

The ledger became legendary in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies, when Howard hit that

two-out, two-run, game-tying double in the ninth inning.

The legend also is accompanied by a quote for the ages: "Get me to the plate, boys," which is what Howard told his teammates in the dugout as that ninth

inning began.

"I think you just have to expect to be in that moment and be ready for it," he said, trying to explain what it takes. "That's pretty much the only thing you can do, mentally prepare and just want to be in it. I think everybody always dreams when you're a little kid about being in the World Series, Game 7, 3-2, all that kind

of stuff.

"You've just got to want to be in the

moment," Howard said.

Get me to the plate, boys.

The words really will define this run. And this team will forever be defined by these back-to-back trips to the World

Series, a first for the franchise.

"I think it's just gaining the experience," Howard said, talking about a group of players who, at their core, seem as if they have been here forever.

"It goes back to 2007 and the nucleus of this team," he said. "We've gotten a lot of experience over the years . . . But it's never guaranteed. Any time you get to this level, it's special."

Completely drenched as he spoke, Howard was asked about how he was

seeing the ball so well this series, this

October. He had no explanation. He said, "I don't know - it was tasty. I don't know. It just was. I can't explain it."

And now, even as they can see the end of October, there are days left for Ryan Howard, days left for the Phillies. The

incremental steps have all been taken.

Or, as Howard said, "One more step.

We'll celebrate and get ready." *

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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