Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Coattails Available

If the Phillies are going to make it to the Promise Land, they are going to have to do it astride the broad shoulders and back of Ryan Howard. Not Chase’s, mind you; not Jimmy’s, either.

To be sure, J-Roll is vital to their success, setting the table, scoring runs and, yes, even showing some serious pop at times. Utley is the cornerstone of the franchise, providing intensity and leadership by example. But it is Howard whom they’ve come to rely on for consistent production.

Frankly, Chase looks awful at the moment. He is even running up in the batter’s box on the first pitch and taking far too many terrible swings. He is in a real funk, but he has always been fairly streaky. He will come out of just as suddenly as he fell into it. He tends to wear down as the season wears on, a mark of how much effort he gives on even the most routine plays.

As is his wont, Jimmy always rallies in the latter third of the season, picking up his average, OBP, and overall game. If Jimmy is not on base, all notions of run production are academic. Howard, on the other hand, is never streaky. A slump for Howard is rarely more than an intra-game affair. He adjusts. He maintains an even temperament. He never falls into bad habits. And he is a big man with big power numbers who also hits for average. One of the keys to Howard’s game is his approach to batting practice, well documented since the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game. He doesn’t try to put on a show during BP. Instead, he works on his swing, meeting the ball, head down. Make contact and the home runs will come; and, of course, they have.

Howard trailed Mike Schmidt’s franchise record for home runs in a season by a single swing when play began last night. Watching him you knew number 48 was coming. So, apparently, did Frank Robinson, who ordered him intentionally walked in the first inning. Such is the growing respect and reputation of Howard. Despite the big ballpark there was little doubt Howard was locked in. He had homered in three consecutive games in New York and would have had more had the wind been more favorable. When he hit the record tying blast he paused at home plate for a moment before heading down the first base line. No serious styling, just a brief moment to watch the flight of the ball. Afterwards, Howard was his usual humble self. The records are nice, but he wants his team to play in the post-season.

There can be no greater tribute to this young star than that from Schmidt himself, who praised Howard to the media and in a conversation with the young slugger and noted that Howard was a much better hitter at his age than he had been at a similar stage in his Hall of Fame career.

You don’t have to tell the Phillies that.


Tom Goodman said...

An after-thought: it seems Howard is hitting a lot more balls to the right side of the field lately. Has anyone else noticed that?

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

I love Ryan Howard, and one of the reasons I love him is that he hits to all fields. Schmidt himself said that Howard has that aspect of the game down cold where ol #20 was a pull hitter.

The bigger thing right no wis that the Phillies are in a great position where they have a game in hand on the wild card leader and can wipe out that .5 game with a win on San Diego's off day. And now they have two more games to hopefully beat up on the Nationals.

But these are the times int he past three years where the Phillies have blown it. They can't blow it this time.

The rest of the NL is handing them an opportunity to take the wild card. They have to take it for once.

dane said...

I've got to give some props to charlie manuel because if nothing else he is a great hitting coach and I think that has really helped howard, utley, and the others. Manuel deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done this year.

RickSchuBlues said...

Tom, I noticed this from Howard immediately following the HR Derby, and marveled that it was not affecting his ability to go with outside pitches and crush them to left and center. Howard has been turning on pitches *far* more in the second half, almost as if what he did in the Derby awakened him the fact that he could yank the inside pitches to right just as well as he's handled everything else. This has only increased his already impressive plate coverage, and is why he is hitting with such consistency and authority: he is equal parts power and hitter. And I'm *still* waiting for the first slump in his major-league career.

Baseball ought to look at this guy and rejoice, and pretend all that McGwire/Sosa/Bonds BS never happened and start focusing on Howard hitting 62. It's something that should be held in serious significance by anyone who cares about the game and the authenticity of its records.

Tom Goodman said...

Excellent points, RSB. If Howard hits 62 home runs MLB should honor him as the first genuinely untainted hitter to break the record. But they won't. I just love this kid's attitude. And, if you have heard him interivewed at length, he is one solid human being. Rich Hoffmann had a nice piece on him in yesterday's Daily News. I had read about his background and realized he'd had a very positive and supportive upbringing. It shows. Nothing is more likely to lead to success than supportive parents.