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Top Stories of 2006 -- Ryan Howard Set Us Up the Bomb in Pittsburgh

The Phillies entered the All-Star Break on an unholy slide, their 9-18 record in June dooming them to another long summer of playing catch-up and eventually falling just short of the playoffs.  Yet again.  Yawn.  But Phillies fans had at least some good news -- the team would be represented by first-time All-Star and starter Chase Utley, reigning Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard, and the red-hot Tom Gordon.

For the second year in a row, the Phillies would also be represented in the annual Home Run Derby, with Howard following in the footsteps of erstwhile Phil Bobby Abreu, who went coconuts in Detroit in 2005, launching 41 homers in three rounds to win the event.

Now, the Home Run Derby is the baseball equivalent of a Twinkie:  Fun, bad for you, but so enjoyable, especially if you're a fan of one of the less fortunate teams that rarely wins much of anything.  Like the Phillies.

And again, for the second year in a row, a Phillie won the event, with Ryan Howard edging NL East rival David Wright in the finals by an overall count of 23-22.  Howard's final blast hit a Southwest Airlines sign nearly 500 feet from home plate, awarding one of the fans in attendance 500 free Southwest flights and, more importantly, the blessed gift of the opportunity to leave Pittsburgh at least 500 times in his life.  Alright, kidding, I love the 'Burgh... you guys can keep your Super Bowl trophies.  We've got a lock-down on the Home Run Derby!  And, like, our professional lacrosse team won the national championship a couple years ago.  Oh, and the Phantoms are a Calder Cup mainstay.  Take THAT, Yinzers!