By Todd Zolecki, Phillies.com
PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins quietly hit a milestone Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
They started their 887th regular-season game together.
It set a Major League record for teammates at first base, second base and shortstop, passing the Dodgers’ Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell. They made the moment last — not exactly by choice — as the Phillies needed 15 innings to beat the Astros, 2-1.
“It’s tough, man,” Howard said of their latest extra-inning affair. “It becomes a battle of wills.”
It was the Phillies’ fifth game of 14 or more innings this season, which tied a franchise record first set in 1958. It also was their sixth game of 13 or more innings, their most in a season since 1980, when they also played six and won the World Series.
The Phillies, who have scored just two runs in their last 36 innings, finally won Tuesday when Grady Sizemore started the 15th inning with a smash past Astros second baseman Jose Altuve for a hit. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Ben Revere. Rollins flied out for the second out as Astros right-hander Jake Buchanan intentionally walked Utley to face Howard.
Pitchers had intentionally walked Utley or Marlon Byrd six times this season to face Howard. He was 0-for-5 with one hit by pitch in those situations. He once reached on an error.
“Yeah, you want to go up there with a little chip on your shoulder,” Howard said. “So when they walked Chase, I wanted to get it done. I wanted to go out there and get it done.”
Howard delivered the 10th walk-off hit of his career with a single through the shift to right field. Astros right fielder Robbie Grossman threw to the plate, but it was not on target as Sizemore slid home safely.
Howard hit a home run to left-center field in the second inning against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel. It was his 17th homer of the season as he tries to recapture some of the power and production that made him a $125 million man.
Howard entered the game on pace for 594 plate appearances in the cleanup spot. There have been 400 hitters in baseball from 1914-2013 with 575 or more plate appearances hitting cleanup. Howard’s .302 on-base percentage as a four-hole hitter was on pace for the fifth-lowest of those 400 hitters. His .363 slugging percentage was on pace for second-lowest while his .664 OPS was on pace for last.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg has stuck with Howard in the cleanup spot anyway.
“You know, I think you guys forget what I’ve done,” Howard said. “You guys look at what’s going on right now. People forget what I’ve done. Ryno has played the game. He knows. He knows the ups and downs of the game and he knows you’re going to have good days and bad days. For me, I’m just going to go out there and grind it out.”
Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick made his 23rd start of 2014 as he tried to salvage a season that has been a disappointment. He entered the night with a 4.92 ERA, which ranked 89th out of 94 qualifying pitchers in baseball.
He retired the first 10 batters he faced and faced the minimum 12 batters through four innings. He cruised through six scoreless innings when he opened the seventh with a walk to Chris Carter.Jason Castro followed with a single and Jon Singleton followed Castro with a single to left-center field to score Carter to tie the game at 1.
Kendrick allowed five hits, one run, one walk and struck out three in seven innings. The Phillies’ bullpen followed with eight scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and four walks while striking out 14.
“The bullpen was outstanding,” Sandberg said.
Hector Neris pitched a perfect 15th inning in his Major League debut to pick up the win. But he was optioned immediately after the game to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make room for right-hander David Buchanan, who starts Wednesday night.
“He chipped in big,” Sandberg said.
Howard chipped in more. The hope is it gets him going in some fashion.
“I’ve hit balls hard, over stretches,” Howard said. “I don’t make any excuses. I come in everyday and try to be positive and all you can do is hit the ball hard. What happens after it leaves the bat, it’s out of your control.”