Ryan Howard: The Awakening of the Philadelphia Phillies' Sleeping Giant
You questioned whether he was one of the top first basemen in the National League, let alone all of baseball. You spat in the dirt over Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro giving him a contract extension that made him one of the wealthiest players in baseball history. You blamed the Phillies sluggish first half on him, wondering where the $25 million man had disappeared to when his team needed him most.
Oh wait. That was me. Shoot.
Don't look now Phillies fans, but in our darkest hour, in our moment of need, when our heroes are either slumping or injured, our sleeping Giant has been awakened.
Ryan Howard is here to save us all.
Fact is, it was a rough spring and early summer for all of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Howard has been no exception. As recently as June 4, 2010 Howard was hitting .280 with a meager .788 OPS. His strikeouts have been up this season, his walks and on-base percentage have been down, and he has at times looked absolutely befuddled at the plate.
But for the past month, as the Philadelphia Phillies have desperately tried to bale their sinking ship and find a way to get the runs flowing again, Howard has quietly picked up the pace of his production.
In one month's worth of games, from June 15 to July 15 Howard has hit .327 with a 1.062 OPS. He has nine home runs, three triples, and four doubles during that time, and has scored 21 runs to go with 26 RBI.
In Friday's game against the Chicago Cubs, Howard has added another home run, his 20th of the season, and his batting average on the season is now up to .298.
Most importantly of all, symbolically, Howard is now once again leading the National League in RBI with 71 Phillies driven in. Howard's RBI have become a security blanket of sorts, as he has led the NL in that category three times in the last four years, and is looking to become the seventh player since 1901 to do it three years in a row.
Wanna see the list of guys Howard would join if he pulled that off?
Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Joe Medwick, George Foster, Cecil Fielder.
It is an impressive list.
Another security blanket for Phillies fans, of course, is Howard's clutch hitting. The vast majority of great clutch moments during the Phillies' current run have involved Howard in some way or another. And he is at it again.
In the most exciting series of the year so far for the Phillies, they swept a four game series against the Cincinnati Reds that saw them survive no less than a perfect game taken into the ninth inning, two 1-0 games, and a six run comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning which the Phillies ultimately won.
Guess who was right in the center of the action.
In Game Two of the series, Howard came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with a man on and a man out and the Phillies trailing 7-1. Howard hit a single to right to score Shane Victorino and get the scoring started on a six run rally which would tie the game. Howard then hit a walk-off two run home run in the 10th to complete the comeback.
It was vintage Howard.
Trailing the Atlanta Braves by five games in the NL East with Chase Utley and Placido Polanco injured, the Phillies are going to need their stars to come up big for them in the coming weeks.
It appears as though the biggest of those stars is finally coming around.
A sleeping giant has been awakened.
Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com.
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