There was a time when a Ryan Howard home run was a near-everyday occurrence, and not breaking news. But in 2014, coming off of a recent two-game benching, a Howard homer seems like a big deal, especially when it leads the Phillies to a 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Facing a left-handed starting pitcher in Vidal Nuno, it was questionable if Howard would even be in the starting lineup. But when the game started, he was in his traditional cleanup spot, and rewarded manager Ryne Sandberg‘s decision by hitting a two-run shot in the first inning.
Howard was also involved in a key play later in the game. In the sixth inning, with Howard on first base, Marlon Byrd hit a pop fly that was dropped by Diamondbacks second baseman Didi Gregorius. Howard attempted to score on the play, but was thrown out at the plate. Sandberg argued that Arizona catcher Miguel Montero blocked the plate before he had the ball, and after a lengthy review, the play was overturned.
It was not a particular good day for the Diamondbacks defense. In the eighth inning, misplays were made by left fielder David Peralta and Montero, allowing the Phillies to plate another run.
Unlike Saturday night, Sunday’s game was a solid showing for the Phillies’ pitching staff. Starter Roberto Hernandez pitched seven quality innings, giving up only two runs. Ken Giles kept Arizona off the board in the eighth, and despite allowing two hits, Jonathan Papelbon earned the save with a scoreless ninth.
The Phillies will now travel to Citi Field to take on the New York Mets. With righthander Bartolo Colon on the mound Monday, I expect Howard to be in the lineup once again. We should get some indication whether Sunday’s game was an indication that he’s breaking out of his slump…or if it was just a one-game aberration.
If the former is true, then maybe Howard home runs will no longer seem like breaking news.