The decision, Ryan Howard said, appeared simple to him. But Chase Utley later admitted surprise - a "little bit," he said - that the New York Mets called for an intentional walk with two strikes. Utley stood a double short of the cycle in Sunday's game at Citizens Bank Park. Howard was 0 for 4 with some hard-hit outs.
For the second time in less than a week, Howard delivered a game-winning hit after the opposition chose to face him. The Phillies overcame a five-run deficit that culminated in a 7-6 win on Howard's ninth-inning single.
"Who are you going to face?" Howard said. "Are you going to face the guy with three hits or the guy with no hits? So you're only as good as your next at-bat. I forgot about everything else that happened previously in the game and just wanted to try to win that at-bat."
"Listen," Utley said, "Ryan's been driving in runs for a long time. He had a knack for driving in runs and big runs. I want him up anytime there are runners on base."
"He got it," Mets closer Jenrry Mejia said. "I don't know how he got it, but he got it."
The embattled first baseman raised his right arm before the full-count Mejia slider landed a few feet inside the chalk. Howard tumbled to the ground during the celebration. "A little violent today," Howard said. There were no wounds, just laughs.
New York blew a 6-1 lead. Howard, with the tying run 90 feet away in the seventh inning, struck out. He atoned soon after. A few teammates pulled Howard from the ground. He conducted a postgame interview, which followed with a shaving-cream pie in the face.
"Once again," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, "the right guy at the right place."
These fun times are fleeting, but no less enjoyable in the moment. Howard's single, preceded by a Cody Asche double, Marlon Byrd's pinch-hit RBI single, and the intentional pass to Utley, served as another piece of redemption.
Utley, who mustered the Phillies' lone hit - a first-inning homer - in the first five innings, and Howard took Kyle Kendrick off the hook for another clunker. New York bludgeoned Kendrick for six runs (five earned) on 10 hits in five innings.
Kendrick could be a candidate for demotion to the bullpen if the Phillies possessed better options. They do not. He is the No. 3 starter in a depleted rotation that shuffled one veteran retread (Sean O'Sullivan) for another (Jerome Williams) on Sunday. Kendrick will be a free agent after this season.
"I really didn't have command of anything," Kendrick said. "I had to battle. Good thing the offense picked me up. That was a fun win."
Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud homered on consecutive pitches in the fifth. The leadoff batter reached in four of Kendrick's five innings. Two of his three walks led to runs. He pitched at a tedious pace, a bad habit that two pitching coaches have failed to correct.
Kendrick's ERA since the start of the 2013 season is 4.78. Only Edwin Jackson (5.25) and Edinson Volquez (4.83) have higher marks among pitchers with at least 300 innings during that span.
He permitted another first-inning run, albeit unearned because Kendrick's second pitch was a grounder that skipped through Howard's legs for an error. Kendrick's ERA in the first inning is 9.00; it is 4.09 in subsequent innings.
Jim Bunning holds the franchise record for first-inning runs allowed (36) in 1970. Kendrick is up to 27 this season. He could make eight more starts in 2014.
Domonic Brown's two-run double in the sixth cut the lead to 6-3. Utley's two-run triple in the seventh trimmed the deficit to one. Howard, who stung the ball in his first three at-bats (all for outs), pushed a full count against Mets lefthanded specialist Josh Edgin with Utley 90 feet from home. A well-placed slider extinguished Howard.
"My confidence has always been there," Howard said.
Two innings later, he smiled.