Phillies Notebook: Manuel sticks by Howard for Game 6

Posted: November 05, 2009

NEW YORK - Less than 2 weeks ago, Charlie Manuel was routinely asked to explain Ryan Howard's remarkable groove at the plate. Yesterday, before Game 6, he answered questions about whether he should move the first baseman down in the batting order.

One of the reasons the Phillies found themselves fighting for their postseason lives last night was the sudden disappearance of Howard's production, but Manuel stood behind his star slugger, brushing off the suggestion that he should have hit him somewhere other than fourth.

Howard rewarded his manager's faith by hitting a two-run homer off Andy Pettitte in Game 6 last night, in the Yankees' World Series-clinching, 7-3 win. But in the eighth inning he also set a World Series record when he struck out for the 13th time.

"What kind of message do I send to Howard, after 3 or 4 years he's been in the big leagues, all of a sudden in a big, important game in the World Series, I drop him?" Manuel said before the game. "What I am going to do, call him in and say, 'Ryan, I'm hitting you fifth or sixth tonight because this is the sixth game of the World Series?' What's that telling him? If my manager did that to me, I'd have some words with him."

While Manuel later emphasized he was not putting Howard's feelings ahead of the good of the team, and that he felt the best lineup for the Phillies was with Howard hitting cleanup, Howard entered last night mired in a five-game slump that coincided with the first five games of the World Series.

Despite hitting .359 with a .455 on-base percentage and 22 RBI in his previous 17 postseason games, Howard entered last night with just three hits in 19 at-bats this World Series. He was 1-for-4 last night and finished the series at .174.

While he has endured similar struggles at times during his career, Howard's current slump surprised many given his electric performance in the first two rounds of the postseason.

He entered the World Series having hit safely in eight of nine games this postseason, with a .355 batting average, .462 on-base percentage, two home runs, 14 RBI and just eight strikeouts.

But one of the keys behind the Yankees' success has been their ability to neutralize Howard. A big factor has been their abundance of lefthanded pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Howard, a career .226 hitter off lefties during the regular season, had just 13 plate appearances against southpaws in the NLDS and NLCS, going 2-for-9 with a home run, four RBI, four strikeouts and four walks. In the World Series, he faced lefties 13 times, going 2-for-13 with a double and seven strikeouts, including last night's against Damaso Marte.

In a Game 3 loss against Pettitte, Howard was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against the lefthander. Fellow lefty sluggers Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez also went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Pettitte in Game 3.

But Manuel has used the same batting order throughout the postseason, and saw no reason to switch it around for Game 6.

"You know, I learned a long time ago, especially when I played baseball in Japan, you've got to slide that ego away every now and then," Manuel said. "And really, if I thought dropping Howard down in the lineup would win the game for us, I'd do it. But you know what? He's been there that long, and I don't want to go doing it on a day, the sixth game of the World Series."

Victorino starts

Shane Victorino started the game at his usual spot in centerfield despite suffering a badly swollen finger after being hit with an A.J. Burnett pitch in the first inning of Game 5. Victorino was examined twice by team doctors, but was cleared to play before last night's game.

Brown a Rising Star

One of the Phillies' top prospects, outfielder Domonic Brown, will participate in the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Game on Saturday.

The game, which features some of the top young talent in the minor leagues, will be broadcast on MLB Network at 8:15 p.m.

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