Before Game 6, Andy Pettitte had offered his theory, basic as it was, for how Yankees pitchers had consistently shut down Howard in the World Series: "I don't think that there's been a whole lot of balls left in the middle of the plate for him to hit."
Maybe the Yankees lefthander was right. Maybe Pettitte proved the theory last night in the sixth inning by doing just that - leaving a first-pitch slider over the plate. Howard sent it over Yankee Stadium's left-field wall.
More than giving the Phillies a momentary lift, the two-run homer served as a reminder of how this World Series could have been different if Howard had been himself.
"That's baseball," Howard said. "It can happen. You see when guys are going good and guys are going bad. It's nothing new. It's nothing that surprises anybody. That's just the game."
Charlie Manuel is the Phillies' manager, but at heart he is a hitting coach.
"I can sit here and tell you exactly what gets Ryan in trouble," Manuel said before the game. "It's kind of up to him. The pitcher doesn't have nothing to do with it. Basically he's just [not] completely following the ball. [If] he's staying on the ball . . . usually things come around for him."
But from his first at-bat in the World Series, Howard had been a dead spot. Before that homer, Howard had hit just .143, going 3 for 21 with no homers and one RBI.
In his career, Howard has gone through slumps - even mega-slumps - but this one showed up all of the sudden. Before getting to Yankee Stadium, Howard had been the hottest hitter in the postseason, in either league. He had tied a Lou Gehrig record by getting RBIs in eight straight playoff games, after a regular season with 45 home runs. His 141 RBIs tied for the major-league high.
Still, Howard can struggle against lefthanders, and that's mostly what he saw. He was 1 for 11 against Pettitte before last night's game.
In the three previous games the Phillies had lost, Howard was 1 for 12, with just a single. He scored his lone run in those losses in part by stealing a base. He struck out eight times in the three losses.
Howard did tie the National League record of 17 postseason RBIs. But in the pregame news conference, Manuel was asked if he might drop Howard to the No. 5 spot, with Jayson Werth moving up to the cleanup spot.
"He's the fourth hitter," Manuel said of Howard. "He's been there. What kind of message do I send to Howard . . . all of a sudden on a big, important game in the World Series, I drop him? . . . What's that telling him?"
Manuel then said, "If my manager did that to me, I'd have some words with him."
Manuel later added that he would make any move if it helped the Phillies win.
"If I thought sliding Howard down in the lineup would win the game for us, I'd do it," Manuel said.
He was right about that part. Moving Howard wasn't going to make a bit of difference, last night or any other.
Afterward, Howard sat in the dugout for a little bit watching the celebration.
"Now you kind of know what it feels like from both sides," Howard said.
As for himself?
"I feel cool," Howard said. "The only thing you can do now is go home and relax and come back for spring training."
World Series Strikeouts
In the eighth inning last night, the Phillies' Ryan Howard struck out against the Yankees' Damaso Marte, setting a record for most strikeouts in a World Series with 13. Here are the players with at least 10 strikeouts in a Series.
Ryan Howard Phillies 2009
Willie Wilson Kansas City 1980
Luis Gonzalez Arizona 2001
Damian Miller Arizona 2001
Damon Berryhill Atlanta 1992
Wayne Garrett New York Mets 1973
Eddie Mathews Milwaukee Braves 1958
Devon White Florida 1997
Vince Coleman St. Louis 1987
Rich Gedman Boston 1986
Del Crandall Milwaukee 1958
George Kelly New York Giants 1933
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.