Howard's homer lets Phillies fans dream a little bit
NEW YORK -- To do something historic, you need a few little miracles. This certainly qualified.
Ryan Howard taking Josh Edgin deep is at least a small miracle, if not even some class of sorcery. Edgin, who had dominated left-handed hitters all year long, should have overmatched Howard, who was hitting .163 against lefties in 2012 before the ninth inning.
Instead, Howard launched a missile that may currently be soaring somewhere over Connecticut, Jonathan Papelbon closed it out, and the Phillies gave their long-shot playoff hopes a needed boost.
They didn't actually get closer to the second National League Wild Card spot, since the Cardinals won to maintain their lead in the race. But they passed the Pirates, stayed ahead of the D-backs, gained ground on the Dodgers and kept pace with the Cards and Brewers. It was a badly needed win, and the kind of win that allows you to dream a little bit.
Or at least, it allows fans to dream a little bit. Phillies players seem to have little interest in scoreboard watching, even after gaining nine games on a playoff spot since July 30.
"I don't know if we really look at it as being in the race," said starter Cole Hamels. "For us, if we want to be in the race, we just have to take care of business one game at a time. We can't look at the situation [as] we're in it, we're fighting every single day and hoping that teams are going to lose."
That's not pessimism so much as it's realism. It's perfectly reasonable to be measured about Philadelphia's chances. Even with the win, the website CoolStandings.com still rates the Phils as having only a 1.4 percent chance of making the postseason.
Besides, this very Phillies team has already shown the limited value of momentum in baseball. They took a seven-game winning streak on the road to Houston over the weekend, and left the series with the last-place Astros having lost three out of four. Reality can be very unkind in baseball.
But with all of that said, it's sure better to have won this one than to have lost it.
And this would have been the kind of loss that thoroughly deflates a team. The Phillies got six very strong innings from Hamels, but they were stifled by rookie Matt Harvey. It would have been the fourth loss in six games on a road trip that was supposed to be their ticket back into the thick of the race.
It wasn't a loss, though, thanks to Howard and Chase Utley, as well as three shutout innings from five relievers. After the first two batters of the ninth struck out against Edgin, Utley worked a walk. That brought up Howard.
Edgin, 25 and a rookie himself, had held lefties to a .132 batting average. Utley's walk was the fourth he'd allowed to a lefty against 18 strikeouts, and he'd permitted exactly one homer in 59 plate appearances against left-handed hitters.
Howard, meanwhile, had been slumping against everyone but especially southpaws. Howard hadn't gone deep against anyone in September, and had three homers against left-handers all year. He had been 3-for-35 against same-side pitchers since late August.
But after a get-me-over slider, he left a fastball up and over the middle of the plate. Howard cocked, loaded and unleashed a furious swing on the misplaced heater, and richocheted the ball off the second deck of Citi Field's right-field stands.
"I blacked out, I guess," Howard joked. "I need to black out more often. ... It felt real short, real quick to the ball, and that's the swing that I want to try and duplicate."
It's entirely possible that the blast, the comeback, the win all end up meaning nothing in the grand scheme. It's possible that it was the last gasp of a champion, and that the five-time reigning kings of the NL East fade from here.
But if they do get in... if they do work that magic... you can be sure that Wednesday night will be celebrated for quite some time to come among the Phillies faithful.
"I think we all know what's at stake," Howard said. "I think we're just taking it, the cliché, one game at a time. That's all you can look at. We're not trying to get ahead of ourselves. We know that if we take care of our business, which is going out there and trying to win the game today, then you hopefully let the rest of it just fall in place."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. Jane Lee contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.