DENVER - A clubhouse attendant interrupted Ryan Howard's taco dinner Sunday as he celebrated a 10-9 Phillies win at Coors Field. He handed Howard a baseball with a yellow sheet of paper that authenticated its veracity. "If they overturn it," he told the hulking first baseman, who stuffed the items into a bag bound for Los Angeles.
Rockies lefthander Boone Logan threw that ball three times as a slider. Twice, Howard whiffed. He smacked it to short right field on the third attempt, and the ball skipped past Brandon Barnes. Howard stood on second; the Phillies dugout believed he hit a double for the franchise's first cycle since 2004, so the ball was removed from play.
It was scored a single and an error. Howard had no clue. "I really didn't," he said. All he knew was his hit had pushed the Phillies ahead, 7-6, and an offense that sputtered for days shined with Howard as its leader. He netted four hits plus a ball that may or may not carry significance.
"I'm going to keep it," Howard said. "I still got four hits. I'm going to take it and keep it as a memento, as an almost. But it will still be special anyway."
That is because the Phillies survived 4 hours, 8 minutes of berserk baseball to prevent an empty trip to Colorado. The Phillies scored runs in five innings and watched three leads go up in smoke. Fifteen Phillies hits - seven of them for extra bases - were almost not enough.
"A Coors Field special," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
Teams typically do not take full batting practice before a Sunday afternoon game. Then again, no major-league team since 1993 managed to play four straight games without an extra-base hit until these Phillies, so Sandberg mandated practice.
Then, finally, they hit at this mile-high ballpark.
"That was well overdue," Sandberg said. "Howard broke out in a big way. It was good to see that."
Howard tied a career high with four hits. He bashed an opposite-field homer in the third. Rockies starter Juan Nicasio threw Howard five pitches, all outside. Howard did not try to pull the fifth one, a fastball, and deposited it into the left-field stands.
He tripled in the sixth, and scored on a Marlon Byrd single. It was Howard's 20th career triple and just his fourth in four seasons.
"I saw him coming full speed between first and second," Jimmy Rollins said. "I was like, 'What is he doing?' Because we've seen that show before. Hit second base then somebody drops a building on him. His legs were moving. . . . That was nice. It was fun."
A win was not assured until the last moment. Antonio Bastardo allowed a run in the eighth but at least preserved the lead. His escape, much like Jonathan Papelbon's in the ninth, was tenuous. Charlie Blackmon homered. Drew Stubbs hit a two-out double to left. The infielders convened at the mound. They looked toward the dugout, where Sandberg held up four fingers.
"Pick your poison," Sandberg said.
Troy Tulowitzki was intentionally walked to pit Bastardo against Justin Morneau. All Morneau did in his first four at bats was amass five RBIs. He fanned on six pitches. Catcher Wil Nieves pumped his fist.
The Phillies ended their power drought with haste. Rollins blasted the 10th pitch of the game deep to right for a solo homer. It was the team's first extra-base hit in 131 plate appearances. The Phillies failed to muster an extra-base hit in their previous four games, which marked the franchise's longest such streak since May 1968.
Twice, though, Roberto Hernandez permitted the Rockies to score immediately after his teammates carved a lead. Howard provided salvation later, although Sandberg wanted more. He thought Howard should be credited with a double and the cycle. The clubhouse was divided.
"Hopefully it will," Howard said. On Sunday, a win was enough satisfaction.