Howard hits slam in 8th as Phillies sweep Astros

Ryan Howard celebrates after hitting a grand slam in the 8th inning. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Some Phillies congregated around Roberto Hernandez's locker at Citizens Bank Park and smiled Thursday afternoon. Jonathan Papelbon hugged the burly righthander and wished him good luck with the Dodgers, his new team. Backup catcher Wil Nieves, who translated Hernandez's answers to reporters, joked, "He said he's going to miss Wil Nieves a lot."

His teammates were thrilled to see one of their own escape the final seven weeks of misery in Philadelphia. Hernandez was traded to Los Angeles, which needed a rotation boost, at lunchtime Thursday for two players to be named. The Phillies saved $1.5 million in the trade.

There are still games, and sometimes the Phillies are permitted fun moments on the field. Ryan Howard authored one of the season's more dramatic moments in the eighth inning of a 6-5 win over Houston. He smashed a 93-m.p.h. fastball - the eighth pitch lefthander Tony Sipp threw him - for a go-ahead grand slam.

Howard, the subject of boos and constant speculation about his uncertain future, received a curtain call. The vitriol paused. The Phils wish the Astros, a team they swept, would come to South Philadelphia every week.

"It is what it is," Howard said of fans' anger turning to cheers. "It's unfortunate. I'll be honest with you: It's unfortunate that that's what happens. But I'm going to go out there and continue to play. I understand what it takes to play the game. It wasn't there early. But I just needed to be there once, and it was there for me."

Hernandez was Thursday's scheduled starter. The trade forced Sean O'Sullivan, who awoke with triple-A Lehigh Valley in Toledo, Ohio, to scramble. He allowed three homers in six innings. The rotation, after Cole Hamels, is a collection of soon-to-be free agents, unproven commodities, and veteran retreads.


Do you give the Roberto Hernandez trade a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

Hernandez, a free agent at season's end, did his job. The Phillies invested $4.5 million last winter for their fifth starter. He pitched in 23 games (20 starts) with a 3.87 ERA. He will start Friday for Los Angeles as a substitute for the injured Josh Beckett.

"When you think about what Roberto is at the end of this year and the fact we weren't going to be offering him a qualifying offer or anything like that, we felt like it was a move to help give us some talent in our system," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

The Phillies will select two players from a pool of four in the low minors. None is a top prospect. They will add depth.

Hernandez is an example of a strategy the Phillies could employ this winter. They have numerous rotation holes to fill. They bought low on Hernandez, deemed a bounce-back candidate, and received suitable production. Then, they flipped him for some minor-league talent rather than let him walk after the season.

"That was actually something we were cognizant of," Amaro said. "We've seen other clubs do it, have some levels of success with it. Roberto served us well. He pitched well for us and did a nice job for us. But if we can convert him into what we think will be some talent in our system, then so be it."

Manager Ryne Sandberg must field a competitive rotation through September. O'Sullivan, who earned a spot start in June, might retain his job.

"Well," Sandberg said, "I haven't thought that far ahead."

Aaron Nola, the team's first pick in the June draft, is not a candidate for a September call-up. The Phillies will soon cap his innings.

"We have to be cognizant of that and not put him on a load that he's not prepared to handle," Amaro said. "Is it possible? I guess it's improbable."

Hernandez, before he exited, said he was excited and nervous.

"Obviously," Hernandez said, "it's a nice feeling going to a team that has a chance."