By Todd Zolecki, Phillies.com
PHILADELPHIA — Phillies first baseman Ryan Howardhad one heck of an interesting week.
He got benched and booed, he met with his manager at least a couple times to talk about his status on the team and his general manager denied that the front office discussed releasing him in the offseason.
But his up-and-down stretch culminated Sunday in a 4-2 victory over Arizona at Citizens Bank Park, where he hit a two-run home run in the first inning and scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a controversial play at the plate to give the Phillies a rare series victory.
“Do you want to trade places?” Howard said about his week. “Do you want to see what it’s like? No, you don’t.
“It’s all about putting things in perspective. There’s a lot of outside stuff, a lot of outside people who have their own opinions and stuff like that. They can’t — you don’t — walk in my shoes, so you don’t know what it’s like. So I don’t pretend to walk in yours to know what your life is like. This is what happens, this is where we are. We get paid a lot of money to play here and we’re under a magnifying glass. Yeah, it’s tough. You’ve got all this stuff that’s going around, but you try and turn the other cheek and try to say positive. The haters and all the naysayers and all that stuff — I still have love for them, because I’m a positive guy.”
Howard’s trials started Wednesday, when Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he planned to playDarin Ruf more at first base, because “I know what Ryan Howard can do. I think it’s also important to see what other guys can do.”
The comment struck a chord because Howard is the highest-paid position player in baseball this year in the third season of a five-year, $125 million contract. He is owed $60 million after this season, but Sandberg said the first baseman’s salary would not be a consideration when he makes future lineups.
“It’s about winning the game and being productive and chipping in and doing the part and doing something to help win a game,” Sandberg said. “If that means playing somebody else there and there’s production right away, that’s trying to win a baseball game.”
Sandberg benched Howard on Thursday against Giants right-hander Tim Hudson, whom Howard had faced more than any other pitcher in his career with a tremendous amount of success. Sandberg said that morning that “in all likelihood, at least after today … I’d be considering a platoon system at first base.”
It did not seem to sit well with Howard, who had a couple meetings with Sandberg about the situation.
“Talk to him,” Howard said after Thursday’s game. “Talk to the manager.”
“We’re cool,” he said Sunday.
Howard sat a third consecutive game Friday, when the Phillies tweaked the narrative. They called the benching nothing more than a mental break only meant to help Howard relax. Sources said the front office discussed Howard’s future with the team, and even considered releasing him after the season. Phillies general manger Ruben Amaro Jr. said that is not on the table.
Howard went 2-for-5 on Saturday, but heard boos whenever he made an out.
He heard plenty of cheers Sunday. He crushed a first-pitch fastball from D-backs left-hander Vidal Nuno to left-center field for his first homer at Citizens Bank Park since June 1. Howard pointed into the air as he headed to second base after giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
“That’s just me,” Howard said. “It’s something personal.”
Howard finished Sunday hitting .227 with 16 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .694 OPS, which ranked 117th out of 156 qualifying hitters in baseball. His .682 OPS as a first baseman entering Sunday ranked 21st out of 23 qualifying first basemen.
The D-backs scored runs against Phillies right-hander Roberto Hernandez in the second and sixth inning to tie the game, but the Phillies took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Howard fell behind, 0-2, but worked a two-out walk against Nuno before Marlon Byrd lofted a towering popup into shallow right field. D-backs second baseman Didi Gregorius backpedaled as Howard slowed as he approached third base.
But Gregorius dropped the ball and suddenly Howard headed for home.
“I saw that [third-base coach] Pete [Mackanin] was holding me up a little bit,” Howard said. “Once he dropped the ball, he waved me on. Once he dropped it, it was go-go-go. I followed his lead.”
Howard was out by about 12 feet, but because D-backs catcher Miguel Montero did not offer Howard a proper lane to the plate, according to the new catchers’ collision rule, replay officials overturned the call and ruled Howard safe.
“This year, that’s a run,” Sandberg said. “In the last 100 years, it’s not a run.”
But it counted in a good day for Howard, who needed one.