Howard plays key roles in Phillies win

Ryan Howard scores after Didi Gregorius dropped a fly by Marlon Byrd. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer).

The Phillies won, 4-2, Sunday when Ryan Howard was out at home by 12 feet. He never touched the plate at Citizens Bank Park. He was safe because Miguel Montero did not adhere to Rule 7.13 - the Arizona catcher blocked the plate without the ball - and impeded Howard's path.

Never mind that Howard did not run full speed around the bases while Marlon Byrd's lazy fly ball hung in the sky in the sixth inning. Howard said he watched third-base coach Pete Mackanin, who waved him home once Diamondbacks second baseman Didi Gregorius dropped the ball. Howard rumbled around third and attempted to sidestep Montero, who tagged him. The call was overturned in a replay review.

These two moribund teams deserved each other, and they combined for a commentary against a confusing rule that was designed to prevent collisions at home. Howard could have smashed into Montero, but there was no need. The experimental rule presented a loophole for Howard to score when obviously out.

"This year that's a run," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said with a laugh. "In the last 100 years, it's not a run."

"I'd much rather get killed," Montero said. "Seriously, I'd much rather be run over. Come, get me."

"Montero, he's just used to being in that position," Howard said. "Some guys are going to have to learn how to make an adjustment, and it's tough for all of us right now."

The game, however, represented progress for the embattled Howard. The first baseman, benched for three straight games amid Sandberg's suggestion of a platoon, crushed a two-run homer in the first inning. He fell behind 0-2 in the sixth with two outs and worked a walk before Byrd's pop-up created chaos.

Howard has gone 3 for 8 with two walks in the last two days. The Phillies will face three righthanded pitchers in New York, and it will be interesting to see if Sandberg sticks to his idea of rotating Howard with Darin Ruf at first or rides Howard and cites the three-game break as a motivational tactic.

"We'll see," Sandberg said. "These are a couple of games he can build on and continue to contribute and improve and help the team out."

Howard, when asked what the last week felt like, said, "You want to trade places?" Sandberg implied Howard used the time to make adjustments; Howard did not want to detail those. He refused to discuss his relationship with Sandberg, except to say, "We're cool."

"It's all about putting things in perspective," Howard said. "There's a lot of outside stuff, a lot of outside people who have their own opinions and stuff like that. They can't walk in my shoes, so [they] don't know what it's like."

Howard hit a low, 90-m.p.h. fastball to the first row in left-center. Vidal Nuno, a 27-year-old Diamondbacks lefthander, threw it. Just five pitchers have permitted more homers in 2014 than Nuno. It marked Howard's second homer in 30 games, and first at Citizens Bank Park since June 1.

After Howard rounded first, he kissed two fingers and pointed to the sky with his right hand. He crossed home with a hop step. He slapped hands with Ruf, his possible replacement, near the on-deck circle. He fist-pounded Sandberg.

The manager included both Howard and Ruf in the lineup. Ruf played left field, pushing Domonic Brown to the bench, and went 0 for 2 with a walk. Howard, Sandberg conceded, would have made the controversial plate play easier had he run harder.

Another debate of Rule 7.13 was ignited. The players in the visitors clubhouse departed in bewilderment.

"It's an awkward, awkward rule," Montero said. "Leave the game alone, man. Don't try to change so many things. The game's been for years like that and it's been fun and nobody's been complaining about it."