Jimmy is playing like he cares again. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Ryan Howard Tells Everyone To Shut Up, Powers Phils Over Mets 3-2

Ryan Howard took us all back to a very happy place. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Apparently, Ryan Howard reads newspapers. And blogs. And my thoughts.

Get out of my head, Ryan.

In a direct response to a recent swarm of negative stories surrounding his lackluster 2012 performance thus far, Howard channeled his inner-2006 self and reacted in the most effective way he knew how.

He completely and totally destroyed a baseball.

The Big Piece’s two-run, two-out, ninth inning mega-blast to right field last night propelled the Phillies to a much-needed 3-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field that, temporarily at least, saved their season.

It was also a shot that silenced the ever-growing chorus of Howard-watchers worried about his long term value to the team.

Well, maybe it didn’t silence them. But it sure did make them shut up for a second or two.

Honestly, it’s been a long time since Howard delivered such unexpected late-game heroics. Not since Game 4 of the 2009 NLDS against the Rockies, when Howard delivered this clutch, two-out, two-run double, has the first baseman delivered in such a big way at the end of a game.

In fact, what Howard did last night was something he’d never done before.

Listen, it’s no secret Ryan Howard has struggled in 2012, and much of it can certainly be blamed on missing half the season and playing on a less-then-stellar Achilles tendon. The injury has to be affecting his play somewhat.

However, his five-year $125 million contract certainly doesn’t breed patience from those who watch the team or write about it.

It’s a bad contract, and there’s just no way around it. Last night’s homer off Mets’ left-handed reliever Josh Edgin was his first hit against a left-handed reliever in 19 at bats this season, and was his first hit off a left-handed pitcher of any kind in his previous 18 at bats.

You simply cannot have your $25 million player be rendered so useless by someone who throws left-handed. A $25 million player should at least be competent against pitchers who throw from either side of their bodies. And unless Howard returns to hitting 40 home runs a year, gets on base with more frequency, and stops being an automatic out against lefties, it’s going to remain a bad contract.

But for one glorious night at least, Howard shut up the critics (myself included) and proved that he CAN hit lefties. He’s not incapable. And, he reminded everyone why his bat can be so valuable.

Because when Ryan Howard gets a hold of a baseball, it’s still a marvelous site to see.

Until Howard’s homer, however, the Phils’ offense had been placed into a collective coma by Mets’ phenom Matt Harvey, who gave up only one hit in his seven innings of work. Fortunately for the Phillies, that one hit was yet another leadoff home run by Jimmy Rollins, who is playing out of his mind right now.

It was Rollins’ team-leading 22nd home run, the most homers he’s hit in a season since his MVP year of 2007 when he hit 30. It’s also his third-highest single-season home run total in his career, behind his 2006 season when he hit 25. And given how hot Jimmy’s bat has been lately, he just might get there.

Heading into last night, Rollins was hitting .315/.377/.583 for an OPS of .960 with 7 HRs, 19 RBIs with 22 runs scored since August 20th (26 games). And since he was benched for his lack of hustle on August 30th, Rollins went into last night hitting .324/.388/.620 for an OPS of 1.007 with 6 HRs, 11 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 17 games.

He may not be a lead-off hitter anymore, but with his power, Rollins would be a great middle-of-the-order bat and is still an above-average shortstop in the National League. Provided, of course, he’s actually playing hard.

Lost in the late-game heroics was the work of Phils’ starter Cole Hamels, who pitched a terrific game against New York, going six innings and giving up just two earned runs on six hits. His ERA is now 3.05 for the season.

Jonathan Papelbon pitched an uneventful ninth for his 36th save in 40 chances.

Even with the win, the Phillies still have an almost insurmountable mountain to climb. Now 75-74, they still trail the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild card race by four games, while also trailing the Dodgers and Brewers. The good news is the Phils jumped ahead of the Pirates last night, who lost again, continuing their late-season free-fall.

It may be too little, too late. But for one night at least, Ryan Howard took us all back to a simpler time. A time of milk and honey. A time when all seemed right with the world.

A time when the Big Piece really was a $25 million player. Please, Ryan. Please take us back there a little more often.

Where It All Went Right

When Howard did his thing. Seriously, how awesome was that home run? The only thing that sucked about it was Tom McCarthy’s call. Now, I just try to imagine Harry Kalas calling every big home run, because I seriously can’t take any more Tom McCarthy. Does he have compromising pictures of someone in the Phils’ front office?

Also, don’t sleep on the at bat Chase Utley had before Howard’s homer. Utley got down 0-2 to an extremely tough left-handed pitcher, fouled some balls off, and worked a walk. That set up Howard as the winning run and got the big man to the plate. Without another stellar at bat from Chase, the game would have been over before Ryan ever got to the plate. An absolutely pivotal and huge plate appearance for Utley.

Most Attractive Play

Domonic Brown’s diving catch in the bottom of the ninth inning that saved the potential tying run from scoring. Perhaps he didn’t need to dive for it (as Chris Wheeler, in his never-ending attempts to dump on Domonic Brown gleefully noted), but the catch was made, the out was secured, and the Phillies closed things down one batter later. For all the hand-wringing about Brown’s defense (all of which were legitimate), it’s actually been quite serviceable since his call-up. The kid has obviously worked hard to improve in that area of his game.

Hero

Need I go on?

Villain

Matt Harvey, who completely befuddled and overpowered the Phillies all night long. The kid is going to be a good one, of that there should be no doubt. Unfortunately, it all went for naught. Awwwww. That’s too bad.

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