Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has been uncharacteristically sullen and sour in September, a month in which he used to make a habit out of destroying National League pitchers. But entering his fourth at-bat of the night on Wednesday, Howard was hitting .172 this month and hadn't had a home run in 17 games.
His first two months since returning from a lengthy rehab from left Achilles' surgery hadn't been that great, either. And Howard was letting it eat him up mentally.
"I'm a competitor," Howard said. "I know I'm better than what shows, and it gets frustrating at times and sometimes you try to do more than what you're capable of doing. I'll be the first to tell you, yeah, I've probably gone out there and done that a few times. I tried to tone it back a little bit today."
With the Phillies down to their last out and in danger of falling five games back in the wild card race with 13 games remaining, Howard breathed life into their September run with one, mighty swing.
Howard hit a two-run home run off Mets left-handed reliever Josh Edgin with two outs in the top of the ninth to deliver the Phillies a 3-2 win at Citi Field.
"He needed that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He needs a big hit like that and he came through."
"It's amazing, especially to see that from him," pitcher Cole Hamels said. "We haven't had him all year and just the way he's been able to come through in the clutch with a home run like in the past, that's the Howard that we've grown accustomed to ... and want to keep getting accustomed to."
Just two innings earlier, Howard struck out for the second time Wednesday night and the 87th time in 230 at-bats this season.
In the ninth, the task didn't look any easier. Knowing Chase Utley and Howard were coming up, the Mets sent in Edgin, a left-hander, in to pitch the ninth.
Howard hadn't had a hit off a left-hander in his last 18 at-bats and had struck out in 38 of his 80 at-bats against them all season.
"I had been struggling, period," Howard said. "There's no secret about it. Even throughout the entire game today. I struggled trying to catch up to the fastball. My swing was long."
So what was the difference in the ninth inning?
"I don't know. I blacked out, I guess," Howard said.