It was not a dream, although it appeared to be a mirage. If anything, it was just the baseball Gods being completely perverse. Ryan Howard making the final out of the season in the playoffs just happened again.
Now, to make matters worse, the man who is set to begin a five-year, $125 million deal in 2012, likely has an achillies tendon tear, an injury that could cost him six months or more. Howard will have an MRI to figure out the extent of the damage.
If the news is true – and it likely is since he said it following the game – the second guessers will have a field day. Is this what Howard gets for signing his name on that lucrative deal last season? It seems like it’s been nothing but a slippery downhill slope since that time.
If you look at the numbers, it’s been a spiral for Howard over the past few seasons. His power numbers have declined, his OPS has sunk like a brick, and his health has suffered. Ahead lies a major setback far worse than his mechanically-wrecked swing; one that will only add fuel to the fire that has been set around him. In my head, I picture Howard running from an angry mob wearing red pinstripes. Except he’s slowly fading. And at the end, he breaks down and succumbs to the mass of humanity. The weight of the world has finally collapsed on Ryan Howard.
Perhaps it’s our fault, in a way. We as fans expect Howard to be the 50-homer, 140 RBI guy that he’s been in the past. His contract stipulates that we believe this, right? And since he’s clearly no longer that person, it’s easy to gang up on him. But have our own beliefs about what it is to be a power hitter making nine figures made it harder on Howard?
Hell, it was just two short seasons ago that he was the toast of the town, the apple of our eye. We’d never want anyone else to man the bag at first. He was a Phillie through and through, a native son who grew up through the farm system to become one of our own. He led the Phillies to a second straight World Series. And now, many can’t wait until that five-year deal is through.
But, let’s not kick a man when he’s down. Howard is human like the rest of us, just with a fatter wallet and a couple of endorsement deals.
Howard deserves our support because he’s been a team player and a leader of a franchise that has made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons. Never has Howard been problematic in the clubhouse or on the streets of Philadelphia like many athletes before him. He’s the anti-Allen Iverson.
Howard owned up following a painful injury and loss – he spoke to the media while others like Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins did not.
As baseball fans and paying customers, criticism is absolutely warranted. There is no doubt about that. Finishing the playoffs 0-for-15, or hitting just .249 in the regular season with a career-low .838 OPS deserves a backlash. He’s paid to produce much, much more than that. However, instead of laying blame at the feet of an easy target, I implore you to rethink it.
Placido Polanco didn’t show up to the playoffs. Carlos Ruiz seemed to run out of gas. Hunter Pence could have been better. Raul Ibanez struggled mightily. It was a team effort – or lack thereof.
Instead of calling this a knockout, rally behind Howard – or try to at least, because I know that’s a tough chore at this time. Because the fact is, he’ll be here for five more seasons, manning that bag like he always does, hat slightly titled. His linebacker-like body may continue to give him trouble as the years go on, but he’ll have to learn to cope and figure out a way to stay on the field.
He’ll have to fix his busted swing. He’ll have to work harder than he’s ever worked this offseason and for every one following. And Phillies Nation will have to support him because he’s got us and we’ve got him.
It may not be the happiest marriage it’s ever been, but to live together we’ll all have to figure some things out to make it work. And we can do that, because as Roy Halladay said after the toughest loss of his life that we’re the greatest fans he’s ever been around. Let’s live to Doc’s standards and let’s be behind each and every Phillie.