Phillies find perfect formula
Power finally kicks in and puts NL champs on verge of crown
PHILADELPHIA -- You cannot beat the combination of pitching, defense and the three-run homer.
The Philadelphia Phillies already had the pitching and the defense. In Game 4 of the 2008 World Series, they added the three-run homer. So, at the moment, they are exactly where they are supposed to be -- on the doorstep of a World Series championship.
The power outburst was fully in character, coming from Ryan Howard. And then it spread like an epidemic. With one fourth-inning swing on Sunday night, Howard transformed a 2-1 game into a 5-1 game. The Phillies rolled on to a 10-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays and a 3-1 lead in the Series.
Earlier in the postseason, when Howard had not been hitting with anything resembling his usual, imposing power, going through the first 11 games of the playoffs without a home run, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had suggested that the proper response to this situation was patience, rather than frustration. The power would come from Howard eventually, Manuel said, because sooner or later it always had.
"I look at Ryan Howard, he's a carrier," Manuel said on Sunday night. "And a carrier is somebody that can take your team and get the big hits and knock in runs, and he can put you on his back and he can carry you. And that's one of my favorite statements. And Howard, he's a carrier."
Chalk up another one for Charlie. Howard had demonstrated on Saturday night that his power stroke had returned with a sixth-inning solo shot. But that was just the warmup act for Sunday night.
With two on and one out, Howard got a 2-1 curveball from Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine and hit it the opposite way, but for considerable distance. The Citizens Bank Park crowd of 45,903 stood in admiration and anticipation and when the happy ending occurred beyond the left-field wall, the place exploded in an epic wave of sound.
It was a game-changing moment, maybe a Series-changing moment. The Phillies already had the rest of their game functioning fully. They were getting another superior start, this one from Joe Blanton. While the Rays were handing them two unearned runs, the Phillies were playing errorless ball.
The Phillies had demonstrated their consistency on the mound for four straight games. They had established themselves as the steadier defensive team. The only thing that was missing was the big multi-run home run, the offensive explosion. The Phillies had previously hit five homers in the Series, four solo shots, one two-run homer.
One win away
|Teams with 3-1 leads in the World Series since 1969 have gone on to win the Series 13 of 15 times, including the last six. The breakdown:|
|1969||Mets||Orioles||Mets in 5|
|1970||Orioles||Reds||Orioles in 5|
|1972||Athletics||Reds||Athletics in 7|
|1974||Athletics||Dodgers||Athletics in 5|
|1977||Yankees||Dodgers||Yankees in 6|
|1979||Orioles||Pirates||Pirates in 7|
|1983||Orioles||Phillies||Orioles in 5|
|1984||Tigers||Padres||Tigers in 5|
|1985||Cardinals||Royals||Royals in 7|
|1988||Dodgers||Athletics||Dodgers in 5|
|1992||Blue Jays||Braves||Blue Jays in 6|
|1993||Blue Jays||Phillies||Blue Jays in 6|
|1995||Braves||Indians||Braves in 6|
|2000||Yankees||Mets||Yankees in 5|
|2006||Cardinals||Tigers||Cardinals in 5|
Boom. One swing, three runs. There it was. A close game was transformed. A close Series was transformed. What followed was a deluge of Phillies homers. Joe Blanton became the first pitcher to hit a home run in the World Series in 34 years, since Ken Holtzman hit one for Oakland in 1974. Jayson Werth hit a two-run homer. Howard hit another two-run homer, giving him five RBIs for the night, tying Milt Thompson's Phillies World Series record set in 1993.
After three close games that could have gone either way, Game 4 became a blowout. The team that had led the National League in home runs had fully arrived on the World Series scene, with the kind of run-scoring outburst that is impossible to answer.
The earlier home run drought had not bothered Howard in the least for the best of reasons.
"We were winning," Howard said. "When you get to the playoffs it's not about individual goals or individual stats and stuff like that, it's a team effort. And the automatic thing is you're trying to win a championship. And we had guys like Shane [Victorino] stepping up. We had guys, Pedro [Feliz], Carlos Ruiz, different guys stepping up on different nights. I don't care if I had hit a home run the entire thing. I don't care if I went 0 for 4 or 0 for the entire postseason. You win that ring, you can say whatever you want, but at the end of the day you're still a champion."
Now, Howard is nearing the best of both possible worlds scenario. He was hitting home runs. And his team is on the verge of a championship.
"To be able to have two home runs in the World Series, that's the kind of stuff you dream of when you're a teenager, getting to the game obviously you want to win, also, but being able to do something like that and just to help my team win, it's a great feeling," Howard said. "I don't know, I mean I've just been kind of hanging with it the entire time and been working with the doctor, over here, as well, Mr. [Jimmy] Rollins. So I'll just take it one day at a time."
The one-day-at-a-time approach has worked so well that the Phillies are now only one day away from the ultimate prize. Two days ago, the Series was tied, Howard hadn't hit any home runs, and everybody was moaning about the Phillies' nearly non-existent hitting with runners in scoring position.
Now, the rest of the Phillies' winning formula has been joined by the three-run homer. This combination is the kind of thing that can win a World Series, any day now.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.