Two questions vie for the top spot each evening:
Did the Phils win?
How’d Ryan Howard do?
Lately, they go hand-in-hand. The big guy keeps delivering and the Phils keep on keepin’ on.
Howard is now the talk of the nation. Having averaged more than a home run every two games since the All-Star break, the sophomore first baseman has single-handedly revived the legendary chase of the only marks that still matter to most of the sporting public, Babe Ruth’s 60 and Roger Maris’ 61. The other so-called records are justifiably viewed as tainted. Mere asterisks don’t do them sufficient injustice.
Despite the innuendo of the past week that Howard cannot possibly be producing so many souvenirs un-abetted, most rational thinkers see him for what he is: a rare talent with enormous skills, chief of which seems to be the ability to adjust quickly to whatever the latest book on him is. A lot of National League pitchers, old hands and young studs alike, are shaking their heads. His latest victims, the Florida Marlins, admit to having pre-game meetings in which the main topic is to not let Howard beat them. Time to reconvene, fellas.
The guess here is that in the coming days Howard is going to see fewer and fewer pitches to hit anywhere. For their part, the Phillies are trying to improve his odds by having Jeff Conine, a contact hitter of long-standing, bat behind him instead of Pat Burrell, whose ability to put the bat on the ball diminishes by the day.
Amidst all this maneuvering, Howard’s name is now also prominent in discussions involving the MVP title in the NL. His chief competitors, Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran, are also worthy, but at this point in the season with roughly 20 games remaining for every team, Howard’s recent surge has projected him to the front of the pack. Lest we forget, Howard is leading the majors in rbi’s and home runs while batting a remarkable .311.
The problem with the MVP vote is that is has been hijacked by those who maintain the winner must come from a team that makes the post-season. Rarely do winners come from teams that finish out of the money. That’s too bad, because while Howard is the toast of baseball (even in New York except at Shea Stadium) his team remains a long-shot to make the post-season.