Baseball / Sports

Ryan Howard plays key role in Phillies' win over Diamondbacks

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies won Sunday, 4-2, at Citizens Bank Park when Ryan Howard was out at home by 12 feet. He never touched the plate. He was safe because Miguel Montero did not adhere to Rule 7.13 -- the Arizona catcher blocked the plate without the ball -- and impeded Howard's path.

Never mind that Howard did not run full speed around the bases in the sixth inning while Marlon Byrd's lazy fly hung in the sky. Diamondbacks second baseman Didi Gregorius dropped the ball as Howard rumbled around third. Howard danced around Montero, who tagged him.

The experimental rule was designed to prevent collisions at home. Howard, in the past, could have smashed into Montero. But in this case, it presented a loophole for Howard to score when obviously out, and give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

This, however, represented progress for an embattled Howard. The first baseman, benched for three straight games amid suggestions by manager Ryne Sandberg of a platoon, crushed a two-run homer in the first inning. He fell behind 0-2 in the sixth with two outs and worked a walk before Byrd's pop-up created chaos.

Howard is 3-for-8 with two walks in the last two days. The Phillies will face three right-handed pitchers in New York, and it will be interesting to see if Sandberg sticks to his idea of rotating Howard with Darin Ruf at first or rides Howard and cites the three-game break as a motivational tactic.

Howard hit a low, 90-mph fastball to the first row in left-center. Vidal Nuno, a 27-year-old Diamondbacks left-hander, threw it. Just five pitchers have permitted more homers in 2014 than Nuno.

After Howard rounded first, he kissed two fingers and pointed to the sky with his right hand. He crossed home with a hop step. He slapped hands with Ruf, his possible replacement, near the on-deck circle. He fist-pounded Sandberg, the man who could enact change.

It marked Howard's second homer in 30 games, and first at Citizens Bank Park since June 1.

A straight lefty-righty platoon may not be optimal. Howard's slugging percentage this season is 90 points higher against lefthanders (.453) than it is vs. righties (.363). The larger sample size, of course, pegs Howard as more productive when opposing righthanders.

Sandberg found a way to include both Howard and Ruf in the lineup. Ruf played left field, pushing Domonic Brown to the bench, and went 0 for 2 with a walk.

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