In the top of the third inning on Thursday's series finale with the Reds, the Phillies outdid themselves and put a couple of runners on base. Charlie Morton outran an Ivan DeJesus, Jr. double-pump and Freddy Galvis blasted Morton to second base with a line drive single. With no outs, three of the Phillies hitters who are expected to produce at the very least theoretical offense were due up. Who would be the hero to push across the first run of the game?
Would it be scrambling Odubel Herrera? No, the 24-year-old spent a nine-pitch plate appearance growing increasingly frustrated in his bat. By the time he struck out swinging, he was screaming at it.
What about young hero Maikel Franco? The two-run home run he muscled out of the park yesterday was still fresh on everyone's minds - what could he do with two base runners? But he popped a four-seamer high into the air and out of the range run-producing.
That left things to the 36-year-old veteran who at this point must feel crushed under the weight of his entire life and career being on top of him, all the time. You look at Ryan Howard and think maybe there's still some power in there. He can't go an entire season without hitting a home run, and this was only game three. Calls for his head have quieted into grumbles and hoarse whispers. Everyone knows what he is now, the succinct definition being "Not what he was before." It's over.
In fact, it was considered so over that talk of a first base platoon with Darin Ruf in spring training was one of the items of the day. The plan made sense, with no hot first base prospect waiting for a shot, as well as Howard and Ruf combined, on paper, apparently able to handle a pitcher with any type of arm. Howard wasn't a fan (even though his spring training numbers were clearly not productive enough to win him the job; .220/.304/.480 in 50 AB).
Until this week, it seems. According to Ryan Lawrence, Howard is far more "at peace" after a quietly angry 2015 and glaring at the media during a press conference this year at spring training. Pete Mackanin apparently pulled him aside and let him know the platoon was happening; Howard let his manager know whatever, he'd do it, it's fine. He's got to have his own back - the last few years have taught him that so few other people do - but he appears to have come down from the notion that he's better than people say he is.
Because, sadly, he's not. He's Ryan Howard. He hit a lot of home runs once, the totals slowly depleted, and not being able to hit half the pitchers in the league became a pretty serious hole in his game. Another hole was the more literal one that suddenly appeared in his Achilles after 2011's abrupt ending. It's been a long road, with a lot of strangers passing in the other direction, hurling insults, and Howard deciding that, after over a decade in pro baseball maybe he can stomach a new role, is a relief. No one wants a crabby 250-pound man being forced to interact with people.
Years ago, baseball's sunshine and farts ambassador, Jim Thome, was gently led away from Philadelphia, despite his beloved status among players and fans. The Phillies knew people would not be happy about trading their star slugger to the White Sox, but they were compiling young assets and needed space at first for a young slugger to get on a bus from Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Howard got his chance because somebody else was pushed out of his way. There may not be another Ryan Howard behind him, but Howard seeing the future doesn't mean he has to forget the past. He may just have to relinquish his grasp on it.
And so, with Charlie Morton finally getting his jacket on before reaching second, and Freddy Galvis dancing on first, it was Howard who stood in the batters box, facing a righty with two outs.
It wasn't a 505-footer. But it did the trick.
Two innings - and, like, three hours - later, with the Reds already into the Phillies bullpen and therefore leading 9-2, Howard was given another at-bat after Maikel Franco worked a two-out walk.
That one got a little closer.
awwwwwwww yissssssssssssss pic.twitter.com/zPIpeetB3g— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) April 7, 2016
Anyways. The Phillies still lost.