Ryan Howard's Legend Continues to Grow, Number of Doubters Begins to Slow

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Ryan Howard's Legend Continues to Grow, Number of Doubters Begins to Slow
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

It was the kind of moment where legends are born.

Two outs.

Two on.

Two strikes.

Trailing by two.

The stage was set. Except that the man standing in the batters box had already started writing his legendary story years before.

Rookie of the Year.

Fastest to 100 home runs.

National League MVP.

And his most recent accolade, 2008 World Series Champion.

Quite a resume for any baseball career.  Yet Ryan Howard is just warming up.

So when Howard and the Phillies fell behind in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game Four of the National League Divisional Series, there was no sense of panic.

Only steely resolve.

"Get me to the plate, boys," Howard told his teammates. 

But getting Howard to the plate was no guarantee.

Rockies' closer Huston Street had been all but automatic during the season, blowing only two saves all season. Yet, the night before in Game Three, the Phillies tagged Street for the loss.

An opening for a confident, battle-tested squad to exploit.

But trailing by two, Howard would need his teammates to step up to the plate.

Literally.

Two years ago, the Phillies didn't know how to succeed in a situation like this.  And a white-hot Rockies squad swept them right out of the 2007 Division Series.

But last season, the Phillies' young core of Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino learned how put a championship run together, capturing the team's first World Series win since the Reagan Administration.

So as the team returned to the dugout for the top of the ninth of Game Four, after surrendering the lead to the Rockies that they had held for most of the game, confidence never lagged.

It was almost as if the Phillies had the Rockies right where they wanted them.

Rollins legged out an infield single.

Victorino gets on with a fielders choice.

Utley works a walk.

And then in steps Howard.

They got him to the plate, now he had to deliver.

After winning the 2008 World Series, the Phillies rewarded Howard with a 3-year, $54 million contract extension, avoiding another embarrassing contract arbitration.

An arbitrator had awarded Howard a record $10 million deal the year before, and many fans in Philadelphia wondered if the notorious stingy Philadelphia ownership would be able to afford to keep its young, talented core together.

Some even wondered if Howard was worth it.

He strikes out too much.

His defense is lacking.

Amazing what a World Series Championship can do to change perspective.

And perspective is what Howard now had, stepping in with the game on the line.

He had been seeing the ball well all series.

He knew how the Rockies wanted to pitch him.

Away.

Away.

Away.

All the while, Howard patiently awaited his pitch.

And then it happened.

Bang.

The ball dropped just inside the right field fence, hit the padding and died on the warning track.

Victorino scored.

Utley scored.

Game tied.

And Ryan Howard, standing at second. 

That is, until Jayson Werth chases him home with the soon-to-be game-winning run.

Another riveting chapter in a storybook that has only begun to be written for Ryan Howard.

What's to come remains to be seen, but it promises to be a real page-turner.

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