Ryan Howard went from hero to goat, back to hero last night. A second-inning home run gave the Philadelphia Phillies a 1-0 lead over the visiting Houston Astros, but that was the only run the team would score until the 15th inning of the latest in a series of marathon games played by the Phillies this season. Howard, who had grounded into a pair of 4-6-3 double plays earlier in the game, found a way to dribble one through the crack in the shift, allowing Grady Sizemore to come around third base and score the winning run of a 2-1 decision. Considering all of the struggles the Phillies and Howard have experienced this season, it was one of those nights that reminds you just how funny baseball can be on any given night.
Howard hit a home run and a walk-off base hit, but the mood has been soured thanks in part to the comments of Howard in the clubhouse after the game.
“You know, I think you guys forget what I’ve done,” Howard said after the game, per John Finger on CSN Philly. “You guys look at what’s going on right now. People forget what I’ve done.”
Have we forgotten? I don’t think so. In fact, it is because we haven’t forgotten what Howard has done that makes this season all the more painful and tough to watch at times. Knowing the contract’s value is one thing, and I am not even going to go down that route. We as fans watched Howard carry this team on his bat a number of times, from his MVP season of 2006 to a World Series championship run in 2008 and “Get me to the plate boys” in 2009. These are things we will never forget, because they were great.
We will also never forget the exact moment when Howard could do nothing but lay on the field at Citizens Bank Park, writhing in pain, his Achilles heel torn, while the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated around first base as victors of the 2011 National League Division Series. The Phillies have not returned to the postseason since that awful moment.
The problem now is fans are frustrated with everything. Howard takes on a responsibility to be the big bullseye for criticism with his massive contract and a lack of production to match that value, but the bulk of the blame still falls on general manager Ruben Amaro. While Amaro may be most to blame, it is Howard who takes the field on a nightly, or near nightly basis, and serves as an outlet for the fans’ displeasure with the team as well as him. Is it fair? Absolutely. This is professional sports after all. But those who understand baseball know how this game works. Howard does too.
“[Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg] has played the game. He knows,” Howard continued. “He knows the ups and downs of the game and he knows you’re going to have good days and bad days.”
The problem is Howard has been having a large number of bad days. I do not think it is due to a lack of caring or a lack of preparation as some might suggest. His frustration shows on and off the field. There are times, like last night, that I really pull for him like no other player.
I went for an evening run last night. Because of that I missed the start of the Phillies game, including Howard’s second-inning homer. Once I started watching the game I saw Howard ground into two double plays. I genuinely felt bad for him. I wanted so badly for him to come through with a big hit and give the Phillies another run. I know in the grand scheme it does little for the Phillies and the standings, that fate has essentially been sealed, but I am still a fan who wants the best for my team and its players. I hate seeing players representing my favorite team struggle so much. the fan in me feels for players trying to find something to go their way, and Howard has been just that for a long time now.
Last night was Howard’s night. Hopefully, his postgame comments do not take away from that.