Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Motivation for Howard

SAN DIEGO -- Let this be a lesson in the perils of small sample sizes.

Motivation for Howard

Ryan Howard knocked in the game-winning runs in the top of the eleventh inning on Saturday night.
Ryan Howard knocked in the game-winning runs in the top of the eleventh inning on Saturday night. LENNY IGNELZI / Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Let this be a lesson in the perils of small sample sizes.

Padres manager Bud Black was faced with two options in the 11th inning of Saturday's 4-2 Phillies win.

He had Chad Qualls against Jimmy Rollins or Corey Luebke against Ryan Howard.

Rollins had faced Qualls six times before. He had two doubles against him. Howard had faced Luebke once, in the seventh inning of Thursday's game, and struck out.

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In 12 at-bats this series, Howard had struck out eight times. He had also singled and tripled.

"I liked the matchup, Luebke on Howard," Black said. "Rollins has a history with Qualls. But it doesn't come down to that one play."

Well, it sort of did Saturday. Howard took an 0-1 fastball on the outside corner the opposite way for a two-run double that won the game.

The $125 million slugger said he was not surprised to see Rollins intentionally walked ahead of him -- mostly because of his four strikeouts earlier in the game. But, he was a little taken aback.

"You just try to take it and use it as motivation," Howard said. "I was able to come through."

Yes, Howard had struggled Saturday. But there is a reason pitchers have usually pitched around him and not the guy ahead of him. Whatever you think of Howard -- streaky, overpaid, one-dimensional -- he's a good hitter, who at any time can hurt you.

And right now, for better or worse, he's the closest thing the Phillies have to a constant threat. (That is, besides Placido Polanco, who if you didn't happen to notice, began the 11th-inning rally with a single in his first at-bat of the game.)

Interestingly enough, from best I can tell, the last time a batter was walked in front of Howard was also here at Petco Park. On Aug. 27 2010, the Phillies and Padres were tied, 2-2, in the 12th inning. Rollins led off with a double against righty Ernesto Frieri. Polanco singled him home and advanced to second on the throw home.

So Black intentionally walked Utley to set up the double play (there were no outs) with Howard at the plate. He struck out.

Maybe that's what stuck in Black's head when he signaled for four balls to Rollins on Saturday. Whatever the case, he gave Howard a chance against a pitcher he had seen two days earlier, and the Phillies slugger delivered this time.

"That's how the game is sometimes," Howard said. "All it takes is one time for things to click. It clicked for me at the right time."

And with Roy Halladay on the mound against baseball's worst offense Sunday, the Phillies will go for a sweep.

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