"You guys want to talk to the Mamba," Juan Pierre joked as the media waited for Howard to finish dressing. "That was Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter with 10 seconds left. The Mamba."
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Howard's last-second shot, a two-run home run off Mets lefthander Josh Edgin, turned a one-run deficit into a 3-2 Phillies win. The game-winning hit was a no-doubt-about-it blast that cleared the Subway sandwich sign on the rightfield façade, caromed off a seat in the second deck and bounced back onto the field.
It silenced Citi Field and sent the visiting dugout into hysterics.
"I had a pretty good idea - it felt pretty good off the bat," Howard said.
"He needed that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He needs a big hit like that and he came through."
The Phillies were one out away from falling five games back in the race for the National League's second wild card. With a win, coupled with the St. Louis Cardinals' 5-0 victory over Houston, the Phils are four games back with 13 to play.
The fact that Howard was the one who breathed the latest life into their improbable pursuit of a playoff berth was somewhat stunning. Just two innings earlier, in the seventh against Mets starter Matt Harvey, Howard swung and missed at a 97-mph fastball for his second strikeout of the night and 87th in 230 at-bats this season.
"I had been struggling, period," Howard said. "There's no secret about it. Even throughout the entire game today, I struggled trying to catch up to the fastball. My swing was long."
So how did he catch up to the 94-mph fastball from Edgin?
"I don't know, I blacked out, I guess," Howard said. "I guess I should black out more often."
Howard was hitting .172 in 17 games this month after his seventh-inning strikeout.
But in the ninth, as Manuel stared at the unfriendly scoreboard at Citi Field, a scoreboard that showed his team had one hit through the first seven innings, he saw that his team was down by just one run. One swing could be the difference.
"He was kind of due," Manuel said.
The two-run home run was Howard's first hit off a lefthanded reliever all season. It also broke a string of 18 consecutive hitless at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
Howard had struck out 38 times in 80 at-bats against lefties this season. But hitless in his first three at-bats, he connected when it counted.
"It's amazing, especially to see that from him," Cole Hamels said. "We haven't had him all year and just the way he's been able to come through in the clutch with a home run like in the past, that's the Howard that we've grown accustomed to . . . and want to keep getting accustomed to."
Hamels also did his part, holding the Mets to a pair of runs in seven innings while racking up 10 strikeouts. But before Howard's ninth-inning dramatics, the Phillies' offense didn't do much of anything for most of the night.
After Jimmy Rollins hit his 43rd career leadoff home run - and his second on the road trip - New York rookie righthander Matt Harvey didn't allow another hit.
The 23-year-old Harvey, making his 10th and final start of the season, pitched seven hitless innings after Rollins' home run. The Phils didn't just fail to collect another hit off the rookie; they hit just four balls out of the infield.
Harvey, the Mets' first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2010, struck out seven and got eight ground-ball outs. He finished off his productive night by blowing 97-mph heat by Howard and then painting the outside corner with a 96-mph fastball against Carlos Ruiz.
Rollins was the only hitter to figure out Harvey. He deposited the game's fifth pitch over the rightfield fence for his 22nd home run of the season, second of the series and 21st in his last 98 games. Rollins had one home run in his first 48 games.
Following Rollins' home run, Harvey allowed one baserunner, on a walk, through the first five innings. The only time he had to pitch out of trouble came in the sixth, when he walked two batters but escaped the inning when Pierre grounded into what was just his third doubleplay of the season.
Although he allowed more baserunners than Harvey, Hamels kept pace with the Mets' rookie. Hamels held the Mets to five hits while striking out nine in the first five innings.
But in the sixth, David Wright led off by launching the second pitch he saw over the centerfield fence to snap a 1-1 tie.
Three innings later, Howard upstaged Wright and kept the Phillies' slim playoff chances alive with 13 games remaining in their season.
"I have to give props out to Chase first," Howard said of Utley, who preceded Howard with a two-out walk. "He had a huge at-bat. And if he doesn't have that at-bat, I'm not in that situation. But I just caught up to a fastball and was able to get a big hit."
Contact Ryan Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org.