And then, when the sound-bite-craving TV reporters pressed . . .
"It's eight games and you guys are trying to start a panic attack," Howard said. "Really. If you want to panic, go ahead and panic. But don't bring it around here."
Howard doesn't want the negative energy permeating his team's clubhouse. But all you had to do was glance around the sea of empty blue seats at Citizens Bank Park a few hours later to realize the people paying for tickets have not been impressed with the local nine, a little more than a week into the 2014 season.
The smallest crowd in seven seasons came to the 10-year-old South Philly ballpark and watched a listless Phillies team get beaten again by the Brewers, this time by a 6-2 decision.
The announce attendance of 25,492 was the lowest at Citizens Bank Park since Sept. 11, 2007, when 25,263 people paid to watch Adam Eaton pitch in a pennant race.
Milwaukee's three-game sweep, its first ever in Philadelphia, extended the Phillies' losing streak to four games.
"The good news," manager Ryne Sandberg said, "is [the Brewers] are going out of town."
With three wins in their first nine games, the Phillies are off to their worst start in seven seasons. They were 2-7 through their first nine games in 2007.
"I think it's too early-I'm not concerned," said Cliff Lee, who received his first loss of the season. "We just have to turn it around, like, now. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Here's what happens: The Miami Marlins come to town. Jose Fernandez (2-0, 0.71), who starts tonight, has allowed 43 earned runs in 30 major league starts.
He allowed only one run in three starts against the Phillies last season.
Before the Phillies could think about the tough task of solving Fernandez, they had to attempt to slow down the Brewers' bats. In a battle of a fearless strike-throwing pitcher vs. a first-pitch, second-pitch and every-pitch swing-happy team, Lee tried to tame Milwaukee and fared reasonably well.
Lee gave up eight hits in six innings but yielded only three runs. He struck out eight and didn't walk a batter.
But in his sixth and final inning, with two outs and a runner on second, Lee had Milwaukee's Khris Davis buried in an 0-2 count and kept pumping fastballs until he was burned for an RBI double that upped Milwaukee's lead to 3-1.
"I made a mistake," Lee said. "I'm not very happy with that decision."
Lee pitched well enough to keep the Phils in the game. But since the Phillies' offense couldn't muster much more than a Marlon Byrd home run off Brewers starter Marco Estrada, Sandberg had to pinch-hit for Lee in the sixth.
When the relievers entered in the next half-inning, they matched Lee: Jeff Manship and Jake Diekman gave up three runs in the seventh.
Similar to the first two games of the series, the Phillies' faults were not the relievers' alone. In the seventh inning, when the Brewers turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 advantage, catcher Carlos Ruiz decided against taking the easy, first out of the inning on a sacrifice bunt and instead threw to second in an attempt to nab the lead runner. The lead runner was safe. Both baserunners ended up scoring in the inning.
"Things just didn't add up for us," Sandberg said of another inning gone bad.
The Brewers reached a double-digit hit total for the third straight game. They outhit the Phillies, 38-24, in the three-game series and outscored the home team, 25-10.
The Phillies, meanwhile, had one extra-base hit and didn't have a runner reach scoring position after Byrd's second-inning home run until there were two outs in the sixth. The Phillies scored in the sixth inning, temporarily cutting the deficit on the scoreboard to 3-2. But they also left the bases loaded, as Domonic Brown (0-for-4) skied out to center to end the rally. The Phillies are 6-for-39 with runners in scoring position in their four-game losing streak.
"One hit here or there with some men on base and it would be a little different," Sandberg said.
Darin Ruf is expected to begin adding baseball activities to his rehab program early next week. Ruf has been sidelined since March 20; he was expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks after being diagnosed with an oblique strain . . . Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (shoulder) is "feeling good," according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. The Phillies are adjusting the righthander's mechanics and are hopeful he'll throw a bullpen session before the end of the month. He was placed on the 60-day DL before the season . . . Cole Hamels will make his next rehab start tomorrow at Class A Clearwater. Amaro said the team will decide on Hamels' return date after he pitches again for Clearwater on April 17. Hamels could make his first start for the Phillies on April 22 at Los Angeles.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21