Non-strike call benefits Howard, Phils
Close pitch results in 3-1 count before slugger's homer
PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard matched a record that Lou Gehrig set 77 years ago, then answered a curtain call from the Philadelphia fans that have seen him tear through the early portion of this year's postseason.
As the Phillies stand just one win away from returning to the World Series, they can thank Howard for continuing to show why he is one of the game's most fearsome run producers.
With his first-inning two-run homer off Dodgers left-hander Randy Wolf in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night, Howard helped the Phillies gain a 5-4 win that was claimed with a ninth-inning comeback.
But there is a flipside to every heroic achievement, and in this case it was Wolf. The Dodgers left-hander appeared to get squeezed by home-plate umpire Ted Barrett on a key 2-1 pitch during the at-bat.
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins had started the game off with a single, but Wolf was able to get Shane Victorino to fly out to left and Chase Utley to pop out to first, bringing Howard to the plate. Wolf started him off with a fastball for a ball, then another fastball that Howard swung at and missed. A third fastball was well wide for ball two, setting up a crucial two-pitch sequence that resulted in Howard's home run.
With the count now 2-1, Wolf stuck with the fastball, spotting a 92-mph four-seamer just above Howard's knee on the inside part of the plate. MLB.com's Gameday shows the pitch well within the strike zone, and it certainly appeared to be a strike, but there was no signal from Barrett, and what could have been a 2-2 count in Wolf's favor fell to 3-1 -- a hitter's count.
A day later, Wolf chose to sidestep a question about the pitch, perhaps expressing his opinion without actually doing so.
"That's not up to me to decide," Wolf said. "Those guys are trying to do their jobs, too. I respect what they do."
With the right-handed-hitting Jason Werth on deck, the last thing Wolf wanted to do was to walk Howard to put Rollins in scoring position, so he came into the zone -- too far, as it turns out -- with yet another fastball. And Howard did what he does with 91-mph waist-high fastballs over the heart of the plate.
The blast into the right-field seats allowed Howard to match Mike Schmidt's career club playoff record of six homers. But more significantly from a historical standpoint, this two-run blast allowed Howard to join Gehrig as the only players who have recorded an RBI in eight consecutive postseason games.
After he rounded the bases, Howard was showered with a raucous ovation that led him to return to the top step of the dugout and tip his cap to a group of fans who were appreciative of what he'd just accomplished.
"It feels good any time you can be put in that kind of company," Howard said. "It's pretty cool."
Consecutive postseason games with RBI
|8||Lou Gehrig, NYY||1928-32|
|8||Ryan Howard, PHI||2009|
|7||Moose Skowron, NYY||1958-60|
|7||Clyde Barnhart, PIT||1925-27|
|7||Alex Rodriguez, NYY||2007-09|
During Sunday night's Game 3 victory, Howard became the first Major Leaguer to record an RBI in seven consecutive playoff games within the same year.
With his home run in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez has now driven in a run in seven consecutive postseason games, including six this year.
Within his record-setting streak which spanned from 1928-32, Gehrig hit .536 (15-for-28) with seven homers and 17 RBIs. The only other Major Leaguers to record an RBI in seven consecutive postseason games were Bill Skowron (1958-60) and Clyde Barnhart (1925-27).
During the first eight games the Phillies have played during this year's playoffs, Howard has hit .379 with two homers and 14 RBIs.
While Howard matched Gehrig's record, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley surpassed the legendary Yankees legend on Monday night, when he reached base safely in his 24th consecutive postseason games.
Former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell set the Major League record by reaching safely in 25 consecutive postseason games that spanned from 1966-71.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.