Ryan Howard, Mr. September

Posted: September 11, 2010

NEW YORK - Ryan Howard either can't explain it or would prefer not to even try. After all, superstition is in just about every baseball player's DNA, so why invite a jinx?

But for whatever reason - sharper focus, pennant-race adrenaline - September has been Howard's most productive month since he took root as the Phillies' full-time cleanup hitter in 2006.

He's at it again.

Howard hit an impressive bases-empty home run to tie Friday's game against the Mets at Citi Field, 3-3. It was his fifth homer in 10 games this month and third in three games. It was impressive because it was a low line drive that threatened to wipe out the first couple rows just beyond the left-field wall of the spacious ballpark. Few hitters have such opposite field power.

Howard's homer was as effective as it was impressive. It seemed to leave Mets righthander Jenrry Mejia, who made his second big-league start, somewhat shaken. The Phillies strung together five singles for three more runs following Howard's 29th homer, which gave Roy Halladay breathing room to settle down for win No. 18 after a difficult third inning.

Howard flexed his muscles again in the seventh inning of the 8-4 win when he doubled off the base of the center-field fence, 408 feet away.

Since the calendar flipped to September, Howard is batting .333 (13 for 39) with 11 RBIs and four doubles to go with those five homers. He has seven hits and eight RBIs the last three games.

"I guess he just likes September," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Reggie Jackson's Mr. October because he hit good in October. Howard's picked September. It's a good time to get hot because that's what people remember over the winter. If you're going for a contract or something, that's good strategy. I'll tell him next year when we start the season I want him to stay hot for all six months."

On Wednesday against Florida, Howard became the first player this season to knock in at least six runs in a game twice. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Howard became only the third Phillie with two six-RBI games in the same season. The others were Cy Williams in 1927 and Pete Incaviglia in 1996. Baseball began tracking RBIs in 1920.

Howard is simply following a pattern he established. In 172 career games he's played after Aug. 31, he has a .316 average with 57 home runs and 152 RBIs. His next best month is July, in which he's batted .295.

Howard's homer Friday was the 251st of his career, tying him with Pat Burrell for third place on the Phillies' all-time list. Nearly 23 percent of Howard's career homers - almost one in four - have come after Aug. 31.

This season, September couldn't come soon enough for Howard because his August was so forgettable. He missed 16 games while on the disabled list from Aug. 3-20 with a sprained ankle. It took Howard a while to regain his stroke when he returned from the DL. The 10 games following his return, Howard struck out 17 times in 40 at-bats and had only five hits and four RBIs with one homer, which came on the final day in August.

Then came September, when the leaves begin to fall and Ryan Howard rises.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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