Howard caps Phillies' sweep of Astros

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryan Howard returns to an exuberant Phillies dugout after his grand slam gave the team a 6-5 lead in the eighth inning.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryan Howard returns to an exuberant Phillies dugout after his grand slam gave the team a 6-5 lead in the eighth inning.
Posted: August 08, 2014

ONE PITCHER went around the clubhouse for a healthy heaping of handshakes and hugs. Jonathan Papelbon asked if he could tag along to join a first-place team.

Another was still in Toledo, Ohio, around lunchtime before hearing he was wanted on the mound in South Philly that night.

Roberto Hernandez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday afternoon, in exchange for two minor league players to be named later.

Since Hernandez was scheduled to start last night against the Astros, Sean O'Sullivan had to figure out a way to get from Toledo to Citizens Bank Park in a few short hours. The 26-year-old arrived in time, but his weary travel day showed when he served up a hat trick of home runs - two to Chris Carter - in the first three innings of what looked like the latest loss in a lost season.

But then Ryan Howard - the beleaguered former MVP who was benched last month but who also drove in four runs in the first two games of the Houston series this week - tapped into his former self.

After Chase Utley's lazy fly to left moved the Phillies one out away from stranding the bases loaded in the eighth, Howard worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Astros lefty specialist Tony Sipp before launching a grand slam to left-center as the Phils pulled off a 6-5, come-from-behind win.

"That was a great at-bat," manager Ryne Sandberg said of Howard's franchise record-extending 13th career slam. "He fought the count to 3-2 and the pitcher had to come to him . . . He actually laid off some breaking balls down and that was the whole key, laying off of those pitches and making him come with a strike."

The homer was Howard's 18th of the season. The game-winning hit was his second in 3 days; Howard ended Tuesday's 15-inning marathon with a walkoff single.

Howard, who was hitting .135 with four extra-base hits in his last 30 games entering the week, went 5-for-14 with two homers, a double and eight RBI in the Phillies' three-game sweep over Houston.

Citizens Bank Park, which has been filled with boos for Howard in the last month, exploded when his slam found a landing spot in the seats.

"It is what is is," said Howard, who pointed to his family after crossing home plate and was forced into a curtain call when the applause persisted. "It's unfortunate. I'll be honest with you, it's unfortunate that that's what happens. But I'm going to go out there and continue to play . . . It wasn't there early, I just needed to be there once and it was there for me. So I'm just going to build on that."

O'Sullivan, meanwhile, settled down in the second half of his second spot start of the season, blanking the Astros in his final three innings.

"I was just happy I made it here on time to go through my routine and be able to go out there and get loose," said O'Sullivan, who hailed a cab at the airport that hit I-95 northbound at rush hour before arriving at the park shortly after 6 p.m. "I could have showed up at 7:02 [p.m.] and I would have been ready to go."

It's uncertain whether O'Sullivan will stick in the rotation for the final 7 weeks that remain on the 2014 schedule. But a week after standing pat at the trade deadline, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could continue to move off parts through August's waiver period as contending teams look for minor alterations to prep for the stretch run.

"We are in position to do that, whether we add or subtract, or a little bit of both," Amaro said yesterday afternoon. "We are in a pretty good position. One, we have a lot of claiming rights if we want to claim players who we think we will help us moving forward. The other thing we may be able to do, we have flexibility if some of these guys get through, to maybe do some things to improve the club down the road.

"We have some flexibility both ways right now, which is a good thing. We'll continue to look through the waiver wire and see whether there are advantages to claiming a guy or seeing if there is a way to improve the club."

Hernandez, 33, was set to be a free agent at season's end and the Phillies hadn't planned on tendering him a qualifying offer, so they'll get two lower-level minor league players instead of getting nothing.

He is exactly the kind of player non-contending teams like the Phillies should look to move this month for those reasons. Kyle Kendrick (also a free agent) and both Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett (older veterans with somewhat moveable contracts) are also candidates to move in the next month if the waiver process works to the Phillies favor.

Byrd was reportedly claimed by an unknown team on Wednesday. Papelbon went unclaimed, which isn't surprising since he could still earn as much as $26 million after this season. But if a contending team's closer goes bad or gets hurt in the next 3 weeks, Papelbon could still get his wish and punch a ticket to a new team, too.

The Dodgers claimed Hernandez, and then worked out a trade, as they became more concerned with Josh Beckett's hip injury. Hernandez will make his first start with the Dodgers, owners of the best record in the National League, tonight at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

"I'm happy - it's my first time being traded," Hernandez said. "Obviously it's a nice feeling going to a team that has a chance."

According to Amaro, the Phillies have a "pool of players" in the Dodgers system they can choose from. His top lieutenants will scout those players in the next month and hope to find two with a future in Philadelphia.

"I think they're going to be guys that are going to be down the line," Amaro said. "But we have some decent reports on them. And listen, they're down the line. The further down the line they're more of a crapshoot."

But, again, the team planned on letting Hernandez walk at season's end anyway. Hernandez, signed to a 1-year, $4.5 million contract as a free agent this winter, went 6-8 with a 3.87 ERA in 23 games (20 starts) for the Phillies.

"We felt like it was a move to help give us some talent in our system," Amaro said.

On a day that began with shipping off used parts for the future, some of the old talent showed up before the end of the night, leading the Phils to a rare sweep at home.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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