I'm perfectly fine with any assignment that allows for the re-watching of the 2008 World Series. To be frank, I wish it were more socially acceptable to work the 2008 World Series into more daily conversations without seeming like a weirdo. But for many people, eight years is, well, eight years ago, and if the recent roster movements are any indication, maybe we'll have something to celebrate again in 2020 or so.
But 2008 was just so sweet. And if we're going to talk about Ryan Howard and what he meant to this organization, you can't ignore 2008. Sure, Jimmy Rollins was coming off an MVP season, and Chase Utley was pretty damn important to that lineup, and oh yeah, that Jayson Werth guy sure got on base a lot, and Pat Burrell with a point to prove? Memories...
Howard hit .251/.339/.543 in '08, playing in all 162 games. He was the rock in the lineup. When the postseason rolled around, Howard wasn't exactly front and center in the NLDS against Milwaukee or NLCS against the Dodgers; he didn't homer in either series. He was just saving the best for last.
And so, with Philadelphia up 2-1 in the series against Tampa Bay, that pivotal Game 4 would decide whether or not the Phillies knew they'd be going back to Florida or if they'd have a chance to wrap it up at home in Game 5. Sure, there are many moments in that post-season to talk about not called "Brad Lidge drops to his knees." Brett Myers against CC. Shane Victorino vs. CC. The Utley deke and throw home. Matt Stairs existing as a person in general.
There was something about Howard in Game 4 that just made you feel that confidence that you may have never felt before as a Phillies fan, that bravado previously unknown if you weren't around for 1980.
Howard was even involved in one of those moments you might have completely forgotten about in the first inning of that Game 4. With runners on the corners and one out, Howard chopped a grounder back to Andy Sonnanstine, bringing Rollins a bit too far off third. The throw back to third from Sonnanstine to Evan Longoria was on the money, and Rollins' only hope was to dive under the tag to avoid being thrown out in a foolish way.
He did, and, well, he was out. If replay had been around back in 2008, Rollins certainly would been erased from the basepaths. Longoria tagged him on the rear end. It was not caught in real time, though, and the Phillies were able to eke out a run in that first inning. Sure, it was just a fielder's choice, but it was the tiny little appetizer for Howard that night.
With Rollins and Utley on base with one out the 4th, Howard lifted a towering fly ball to left field off Sonnanstine. Rollins knew it was gone, that iconic image of his hand raised in the air as he slowly trotted home. It was 5-1, the breathing room was there, and the crowd was beyond exuberant.
This game, of course, did feature that epic Joe Blanton homerun, and we'd be remiss if that wasn't at least mentioned, but this is not the Joe Blanton Retrospective Hour here.
The Phillies were up 8-2 in the 8th inning when Howard stepped up with Utley on first and one out. Trever Miller was on the mound for the Rays, yes that Trever Miller, the one who threw left-handed, if you can imagine that magical time when Ryan was capable of doing major damage against left-handed pitching. There would be no missing that 86 MPH slider that Miller threw. Howard deposited it deep into the seats in right field, staking the Phillies to a 10-2 advantage. It was at that very moment when it became very easy to picture that parade down Broad Street.
A few days and a whole lot of rain later, that dream became reality. For all that 2008 lineup had, there would have been no World Series title without Ryan Howard.