Down two runs with two runners on and two outs and the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Howard dug in to face Mariano Rivera. Howard approached the plate fully expecting to see a splitter from Rivera and he got it on the first pitch. The trouble was he couldn’t do anything about it except dribble it to the Yankees second basemen to record the final out. Howard tried to defend himself by saying, "The cutter is absolutely filthy. Everybody looks for it, but you still can’t hit it." Nonetheless, it was a very unclutch at bat. If the Phils can’t rely on one of their best hitters to win a game for them, what chance do they have?
Oh, of course, I’m joking. Ryan Howard is an offensive juggernaut and the only reason the Phillies had a chance to win last night’s game, even if they didn’t. He finished the night 3-4 including a triple and 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, and a walk. He now leads the Majors in RBIs and is tied with Pujols in HRs. Still this was not enough and starter Cory Lidle said of Howard’s last at bat, "That would have been nice for him to get 10 ribbies and a walk-off home run." Yea, it would have been nice, but you know what would have been nicer? If the Phillies pitching staff wasn’t wholly unclutch the entire game. They not only surrendered nine runs to the Yankees on the night, they also coughed up all three leads Ryan Howard provided them. This included an Arthur Rhodes four-run meltdown in the eighth inning after pitching a perfect eighth one night prior. Games like this are hard to lose, both in that they are tough to deal with mentally afterwards as well as physically difficult to blow so many leads. But as always, the Phils found a way. Tough break, Ryan.
In other news, ESPN today is singing the praises of Aaron Roward. Have you heard about his face plant catch last month against the Mets? Oh you have? Well, both Jayson Stark and Jerry Crasnick are still giving props. Stark named Rowand a starter on his "All-Run-Through-A-Wall-Team" and held a reserve spot for Chase Utley. Crasnick meanwhile devoted an entire MLB Insider article to the Phillies hard-nosed centerfielder. In it, we learn that one of Aaron’s baseball idols growing up was another tough Phillies centerfielder, good ole Nails, Lenny Dykstra. Rowand’s cousin and Tampa Bay pitcher, James Shield, took the Phillies comparisons a step further by saying, "He’s like Pete Rose, man. He’s one of the toughest guys I know in baseball." The most compelling quote though came from White Sox GM, Kenny Williams, he said:
"There’s a way to play the track and play the wall. Just because you run into a lot of walls doesn’t mean you’re any more of an outfielder than a guy who doesn’t. It just means you didn’t take to the lessons of how to play balls at the wall, or you chose to disregard it. In Aaron’s case, he chose to disregard it. The one thing I’ve learned about people is, you are what you are."
By this logic, Williams is indirectly suggesting that Rowand is no more an outfielder than Bobby Abreu. While that’s surely open to debate what Williams may not have realized is that Aaron was built with - as Crasnick says - "an industrial-strength noggin." After the world famous catch Rowand told of his mother’s reaction. "My mom thought I might have hurt my body," he said. "When she saw it was my face and head, she didn’t worry anymore."