Ryan Howard has officially taken out a mortgage on The Zone. His amazing hitting during the Phils' recent West Coast swing more than qualified as earnest money and his fourteenth inning walk-off two-run homer late last night completed the down payment. Mr. Howard may not be the sole support of his family but he is clearly its biggest bread winner. When he gets this hot he can and does carry his team. Right now his mates must be looking at the big fellow and saying to themselves, he'll get it done.
On the pitching front, Cole Hamels had another fine outing only to come up empty and Antonio Alfonseca demonstrated why the Phillies desperately need a legitimate closer, blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning and forcing both teams to play another five innings before Howard settled things. Clay Condrey pitched three innings of excellent relief to notch his fourth win without a loss. Watch: when Brett Myers is activated the Phils will probably send Condrey down yet again. I can think of several more deserving candidates for demotion.
With a day game scheduled this afternoon in what promises to be a sweltering Citizens Bank Park, the Phils and Nationals could have used a little extra sleep not innings. Jimmy Rollins only went 1-7 during the marathon but his one hit was a big one, a ninth inning triple after which he scored the tying run when a throw got away from an infielder.
The Phils had many opportunities to break things open in the first few extra frames but couldn't come up with a clutch hit. Overall they only managed 11 hits in fourteen innings, but they won their fifth straight game.
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Aaron Rowand, who had two hits last night to raise his average to .330 just won't go quietly...fortunately. He continues his remarkable hitting, heroics and timing. The night before his home run was the margin of victory over Washington.
Has anyone in recent memory had a better year going into free agency? The list would be very small indeed when compared to the numbers Rowand is putting up. So, the question remains, do the Phils move him, re-sign him or let him walk?
Rowand is going to receive a lot of interest this Fall and Winter. He hits well (though not this well), runs well, fields well, and throws well enough. Then, of course, there are the intangibles, particularly his willingness to take one for the club and his emphasis on we, team, us. This attitude plays well in the clubhouse with his teammates and absolutely resonates with front offices.
If the Phils can come up with enough money and some pitching I believe Rowand will stay. He can look at the nucleus of this club and see an unbelievable core of quality talent -- Utley, Howard, Rollins, Hamels -- and another group of fine players -- Victorino, Ruiz, Myers (if healthy). Beyond them there is reason to believe Kyle Kendrick can pitch in the big leagues. Were the Phils to add a few more pieces it isn't hard to imagine Rowand believing they can play deep into October. Yes, the Phils are perennially a few pieces from playing beyond the first few days of October let alone deep into the month, but they are closer now than they've been in years. Rowand's presence in their lineup will bring them closer, not further from their post-season aspirations. The Phillies cannot afford to lose him.