Friday, August 1, 2014
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Sam Donnellon: We were hoping for a better explanation from Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard sits in the dugout after striking out to end the game. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Ryan Howard sits in the dugout after striking out to end the game. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

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    CASEY TOOK his first two borderline strikes, swung at the third. The sadness in Mudville could be muted over time by that, by the thought their slugger had taken his shot and just plain whiffed.

    It will be different here this winter. The way Ryan Howard went down at the end, standing, bat on shoulder, giving his best "not my style" look to plate umpire Tom Hallion after taking a 3-2 pitch for a season-ending strike three?

    Standing amid media an hour later, unapologetic when someone asked if he thought, in retrospect, that he should have taken a hack at what seemed to be a hittable pitch?

    Bristling when it was conveyed that his manager postulated that he had not found his hitting stroke after being sidelined by a wrist injury?

    "Did I ever find my swing?" he said, repeating the question.

    "My swing never left."

    Your manager said it did, he was told.

    "Um, I guess I didn't find it then," he said, a mocking tone in his voice. "I mean if you hit 31 home runs and 108 RBIs, you must have found something."

    Eek. Reading your regular-season stats after leaving two runners on in the ninth inning of a playoff game you had to win? Whether Howard really believed this last season of his was not subpar, this was really bad timing, bad form.

    To the national media that measures him against the likes of Albert Pujols or Joe Mauer, Howard at times came across as petty and petulant Saturday night. His insistence that the strikeout pitch was low rings hollow from the lips of a man who tied a record in this series with 12 strikeouts in 22 at-bats, who swung at ball four the pitch before, who K'd in the third inning after Placido Polanco and Chase Utley reached base to start the inning, after a near brawl resulted in Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez being removed from the game.

    "You think if the pitch is a ball, you're not going to swing," said Howard, apparently disregarding a baseball staple dating back to the days of Mudville.

    It goes something like this:

    Two strikes, anything close, put the ball in play.

    If your kid did this in Legion ball, he might not get to play in the next game.

    "He kind of paused before he made the call," Howard said of Hallion. "It's kind of a tough way to end the season and end the game. To me if you're going to call it, call it. Don't hesitate and make the call."

    Someone asked if he had seen the replay, in which it looked to me that the ball crossed the plate a strike.

    Didn't need to, he said. "I was there. I saw the ball first-hand. I'm not going to go watch the video because it's not going to change a thing. He made the call. And we've got to live with it."

    The great ones don't just stand up at the end. They take blame. The same guy who meditated on the bench during the first two rounds of the 2009 postseason, who urged his teammates, "Just get me to the plate, fellas," began his answers about the called third strike and his RBI doughnut this postseason with a lot of "we's."

    "I mean it's definitely frustrating," he said at one point. "We didn't play to our whole potential and we know that. The Giants played us tough. Got to wish them luck."

    He said, "We didn't get it done," a few more times after that, as the questions kept returning to that final at-bat and the absence of a single run batted in by him, in the postseason.

    Finally, when discussing the third-inning at-bat, he said, "I didn't get it done."

    Finally, the right response. Because although his RBI total was more indicative of the lack of hitting before him - Shane Victorino and Utley were greater at-bat sinners by far in this postseason - Howard has the team's largest contract, a reported $20 million per year.

    He is "The Big Piece," a title assigned by his admiring manager. And he was in the spot that, in his own words, "Everybody dreams about being in.

    "Full count, game on the line . . . "

    Their once-feared slugger at the plate, at home, 46,062 hoping that another one of those big Phillies moments was about to take place. Jimmy's double off Broxton. Victorino's granny against Sabathia.

    "This time came up short," Howard said.

    No, that's what Casey did. Howard didn't even take a shot. Maybe it would have been a strikeout anyway. Maybe it would have dribbled off the bat or settled into a glove somewhere. Or maybe it would have found a hole somewhere, and this morning would be about Cliff Lee against Roy Halladay in Game 1, not about an offseason of uncertainty, uncertainty that now should include whether the big contract afforded "The Big Piece" assures this team of more game-on-the-line opportunities, or precludes them.

    Send e-mail to

    donnels@phillynews.com.

    For recent columns, go to

    http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

     

    Sam Donnellon Daily News Sports Columnist
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