Howard homered twice during a perfect night at the plate, Jamie Moyer(notes) pitched effectively in relief of Pedro Martinez(notes), and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves 4-2 on a soggy Friday.
Howard is enjoying his annual late-season surge. He’s batting .339 with 11 home runs and 29 RBIs in his last 15 games, giving him 37 homers this season.
“It makes you feel good when he starts hitting,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s amazing. He’ll take two swings and not look too good, then all of a sudden he stays on a pitch and smokes it out of the yard. He’s a tremendous hitter.”
Looking for its third straight division title, Philadelphia increased its NL East lead to eight games over Atlanta and Florida, which lost at home to San Diego.
Howard gave the World Series champion Phillies a 1-0 lead with a homer in the second inning off starter Tommy Hanson(notes) (9-3), who was celebrating his 23rd birthday. After Jayson Werth(notes) struck out, rain forced a delay of 63 minutes.
Play then resumed for 7 minutes before another 45-minute stoppage.
In the fourth, Howard drove a two-run shot to center off Kris Medlan for his 22nd career multihomer game and fifth this season. The slugger also stroked a double and walked to finish 3 for 3 with three RBIs.
More could be on the way. From Aug. 26 through the end of the past two seasons, Howard has hit a combined .317 with 25 homers and 54 RBIs.
“That’s not how I wanted the night to work out,” Hanson said. “But what can you do? It rained.”
Martinez allowed one hit and one walk in two innings. He was on deck in the second—following the first delay—but didn’t return after the second stoppage.
“The weatherman loves me,” said Martinez, who also had his Aug. 18 start cut short because of wet weather. “He blesses me with the rain all the time.”
As he did on Aug. 18, Moyer (12-9) relieved Martinez. The 46-year-old lefty worked 4 1-3 innings, allowing one run and four hits with no walks and five strikeouts. It was his second win in relief after being bumped from the rotation, and No. 258 of his 23-year career.
“It was the Pedro and Jamie show again,” Martinez said. “I’ll take it. What a cool show. It’s one old goat picking up another old goat.”
Ryan Madson(notes) loaded the bases in the eighth, but escaped by getting Adam LaRoche(notes) on a fly to center field. Struggling closer Brad Lidge(notes), who has a 7.17 ERA and leads the majors with nine blown saves, worked a quick ninth for his 26th save.
Lidge arrived at the ballpark with a “military” style haircut, a developing trend among the relievers, and said he hoped it would change his fortunes.
“Nothing like a fresh haircut to get you on a good run and hopefully bring you luck,” Lidge said. “I haven’t been thrilled with the way my season has gone, but the great thing is we have such a good team where we’re in first place. The consistency hasn’t been there. We all know we have to be at our best by the time the playoffs roll around. I feel like I’m very close.”
After losing two of three in Pittsburgh, the Phillies felt good about beating the Braves—and the clouds.
“It was definitely a good game to try and right the ship because it’s a game where, for both teams, it was a mental game,” Howard said. “You’re playing the waiting game with the rain, starting and stopping and trying to stay loose. We didn’t know it was going to be up in the air. We were able to play through some things and get it done.”
NOTES: Phillies reliever J.C. Romero(notes) was in Philadelphia to have his strained left forearm examined. There is still no timetable for his return. … Matt Stairs(notes) pinch hit for Philadelphia in the seventh and grounded out, extending his slump to 0 for 25. His last hit came on July 11. … Atlanta CF Nate McLouth(notes), who has missed 10 games with a strained left hamstring, went 1 for 2 with a walk while playing center for Double-A Mississippi.