Jul 17, 2012, 3:14 AM EDT
With a dinger roughly every 13 at bats, Ryan Howard is Major League Baseball’s active career leader in home runs per at bat. It took 18 trips to belt his first in 2012, but the timing could not have been much better.
The Big Piece made a new friend out in L.A. on Monday night. With Ted Lilly on the disabled list, 22-year-old Nate Eovaldi has been pressed into the Dodgers’ rotation for the past month and a half, and Howard took to the young right-hander immediately. He gave one a ride to the left field wall for a long out on his first at bat. On the second, he finally got it over the top.
That solo shot in the fourth inning proved to be the game’s decisive run, as Jimmy Rollins had a blast himself, and Juan Pierre chipped in an RBI in a 3-2 Phillies victory to open the series with Los Angeles. It’s the Fightins’ third win in a row, for those of you still keeping track.
While Howard will get most of the pub today, Joe Blanton arguably had the biggest hand in a huge win for the Phils. Blanton worked eight tremendous frames, holding the Dodgers to six hits and walking zero. When they did manage to get on the board in the sixth and seventh, Heavy B prevented those from becoming bigger innings, which is the main reason RyHo’s homer can stand as the headliner.
The W is number eight of the season for Blanton. Jonathan Papelbon did his thing in the ninth to pick up his 20th save.
However, the story really is Howard, both because he hasn’t fared too well in his short time back, but also that it’s refreshing to see a visual reminder of the way he can impact games with one swing of the lumber. So far, he’s 3-for-20 with a couple of walks.
Let’s be honest: it’s difficult to set expectations for Ryan Howard this season. The Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan wrote yesterday if Piece is on the field and earning $20 million, it’s reasonable to expect he perform up to that. Then again, he’s not quite healthy, and how long will it take until the timing is there? Probably a lot faster if opposing teams keep feeding him Eovaldis, but we know that’s not always the case.
Monday gave us reason to be excited about his progress though. He still has a ways to go obviously, but it appears at the very least Howard is still a danger to fans sitting in outfield seats at ballparks everywhere. These are exactly the kind of big hits the Phillies have missed all too often this year.
Going back to 2004, Ryan Howard homers once every 13.3 at bats. To put that in perspective, that’s basically every five games. If he posts a figure even close to that the rest of the way, the Phillies clearly will win more frequently — and maybe just maybe make this second half interesting after all.
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