Howard feels the pain as injury joins futility

Posted: October 08, 2011

The expectations for this Phillies postseason, higher than Billy Penn's hat before this National League division series started, zoomed into the stratosphere when Ryan Howard crushed a three-run home run in Game 1, finished the night with his fourth RBI, then hit a two-run single early in Game 2.

In his first four official at-bats, Howard had six RBIs. The bitter memories of his taking a season-ending called third strike in Game 6 of last year's NL Championship Series against the Giants were fading quickly. The Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel calls him, was poised to hoist the Phillies on his broad shoulders.

Or so it seemed.

Instead, this season ended in a more painful way for Howard, who was the last batter in the St. Louis Cardinals' 1-0 win Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, a crushing defeat for the Phillies, who lost the series, three games to two.

Much more painful.

This time, rather than glancing back at the home-plate umpire in disbelief over a called third strike, Howard's season ended with him writhing in pain on the ground about 30 feet up the first-base line as he grounded out to second for the game's final out.

Howard injured the Achilles tendon in his left foot. He is scheduled for an MRI. While the Cardinals celebrated in front of their dugout after Chris Carpenter outpitched Roy Halladay in a classic duel, Howard had to be helped to his feet and off the field.

The immediate diagnosis was unclear.

"They took him back in the training room for the doctor to see him," Manuel said. "He twisted his ankle, or tore up his ankle. Don't know yet."

The series shifted to St. Louis after Howard's productive first two games, where lefthander Jaime Garcia used Game 3 to once again take ownership of the Phillies. Especially Howard, who was never again the same. Manuel has called Howard a rhythm/technique hitter, and when he loses his rhythm and technique, it frequently takes him a while to get it back.

But Howard didn't get it back. He went hitless in his final 15 at-bats. He made contact in all four at-bats against Carpenter, but he is paid handsomely to drive in runs and hit baseballs out of the park, which is why he is first to take the hit from the fans when he doesn't.

In the seventh inning, Howard swung on a 3-0 count and flied out to right field, and there was a smattering of boos as he returned to the dugout. But the Phillies were looking so feeble at the plate, constantly beating the ball into the ground against Carpenter's devastating sinker, it made sense that he swing for the fences.

"Ryan Howard has a green light most all the time," Manuel said. "When we're losing 1-0 or something like that, he's swinging if he gets a good ball to hit."

Of course, it would be grossly unfair to blame the Phillies' early exit primarily on Howard. He has gone through dry spells before, but sometimes they go largely unnoticed because his teammates frequently pick up the slack.

But this Phillies team never got into a sustained pattern of mashing the ball. Hunter Pence batted .211 in the series. Raul Ibanez .200. Placido Polanco .105. Carlos Ruiz .059. In Game 5, the top four hitters in the lineup went a combined 1 for 15, the one hit a single by Chase Utley that barely made it to the outfield.

But when the other guys struggle, the light that shines on the big guy batting cleanup becomes brighter. And harsher as well.


Cardinals Handcuff Howard

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard went 0 for 15 to end the NLDS against the Cardinals. Here are his hitting statistics for the series:

    Avg.    AB      R     H 2B 3B    HR RBI    BB SO

    .105    19    1 2      0 0     1       6    1       6


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at rparrillo@phillynews.com

or @rayparrilloinq on Twitter.

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