Ryan Howard knew what was coming so he made the first strike
“Speed kills,” he said to the assembled media waiting to talk to him after Friday’s 5-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park.
There aren’t many games where Howard gets an infield hit and then later tags up on a sacrifice fly, just beating a throw at home.
Yet that’s exactly what happened – Howard’s head-first slide just beat the throw from center fielder Shin-Soo Choo for the Phillies fifth run.
And there it was, a Phillies victory spurred by Howard’s legs.
“I have those speed bursts every once in a while,” quipped Howard.
But then he turned serious.
Few thought Howard would ever be able to run the way he did on Friday. Not that he will win many foot races, unless the opponent is one of the Molina brothers, but it was still significant.
After rupturing his left Achilles in that playoff-ending game to St. Louis in 2011, Howard hasn’t been the same.
And that is why in the winner’s clubhouse, he admitted it was a big deal to be able to make the plays with his legs.
“My ankle feels good and it has felt pretty good this entire season,” Howard said. “You still continue to work to get the strength back, to get where my right leg is, but it feels good.”
He could sense the crowd’s enthusiasm when he scored.
“It felt good and I could feel the energy in the stadium and that was also huge to get an extra run,” he said.
Not only that, but Howard wasn’t apologizing for the swinging bunt that he got against lefthander Sean Marshall.
“You take all of them,” Howard said. “You guys can tell me how many times I have hit it hard at somebody and gotten out and you don’t frown on those,” he said.
Howard is batting .245 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and a .712 OPS. These are all underwhelming numbers with slightly more than quarter of the season played.
Howard feels eventually he will break out.
“There have been a few times I haven’t felt comfortable at the dish and right now it is kind of getting my pitches and fouling them off and the tough thing is, that leads to deeper counts,” Howard said.”Now I am working on not fouling them off and putting them in play.”
Howard is the one player who has the ability to carry an offense for stretches. It hasn’t happened this season, but as he showed in the win over Cincinnati, Howard is a competitor.
No doubt he will get busted by his teammates for his running exploits but deep down, they admire his grit and determination.
Howard may never again run like he used to or hit the way he used to, but he will continue to fight to regain what little speed he originally and a stroke that once made him one of the game’s more feared hitters.