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Phillies' Howard spoils Harvey's final start with dramatic home run

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard has been battling thoughts lately of trying to do too much in one at-bat.

For most of Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Phillies' slumping first baseman acknowledged he had trouble doing anything. He had been "chasing the fastball" from New York Mets rookie starter Matt Harvey unsuccessfully, continuing a homer-less September through a 0-for-3 night.

But as he stepped up in the top of the ninth with two outs, one on and the Phillies down a run, Howard said something "clicked" right before he hit a game-winning home run in the Phillies' 3-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field.

"I don't know," Howard said with a wry smile. "I blacked out, I guess. I don't know. I need to black out more, I guess."

The homer might have jolted Howard out of a dismal September, while sending the Mets spiraling back into the despair they seemed set to escape for one night.

Howard's two-out, two-run homer off rookie reliever Josh Edgin also helped Philadelphia avoid losing more ground to the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card race with time running out.

The Phillies stayed four games back of St. Louis, which beat the Astros, 5-0.

"I don't think a lot of people expected us to be where we are right now," Howard said of the Phillies, who had seemingly dropped out of the race before a late surge.

Howard's blast also painted over what had been a rare uplifting night for the Mets, spoiling Edgin's chance at his first major league save and rookie starter Harvey's one-hit gem in his final scheduled appearance of the season. Instead of celebrating Harvey's finale and David Wright's go-ahead homer, the Mets dropped their eighth straight at Citi Field.

With closer Frank Francisco out with tendinitis in his right elbow, Edgin (1-2) came on and struck out Jimmy Rollins, who had homered to start the game, and Juan Pierre. But Edgin lost Chase Utley, walking him on a 3-2 pitch, to bring up Howard.

The Phillies' first baseman entered the game hitting .180 in September. But Howard blasted a 0-1 pitch off the second deck in right to remind Philadelphia of what he had done so often in the past.

"It meant something to us, and it meant something to him," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm sure it'll give him a big boost. He needed that."

Edgin was left to lament his mistake, and recognize that Howard was the type of hitter who could make him pay for it, even when struggling.

"It was up, middle up," he said. "That's what he's paid to do. He's a big guy, paid to hit home runs. I gave him a meatball, so he's going to do it."

Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth for his 36th save. Reliever Jeremy Horst (2-0) picked up the win by getting two outs in the eighth.

Until then, the story had been Harvey, who outdueled Cole Hamels and seemingly received just enough support from Wright's sixth-inning homer off Hamels and Daniel Murphy's RBI single.

The last pitch of Harvey's season darted past Carlos Ruiz for a called third strike, leaving the Phillies catcher as frozen as the moment will be for the Mets rookie pitcher until next season.

The 96 miles per hour, biting four-seam fastball capped Harvey's brief journey in the big leagues this year and did it in style, but the substance was just as important.

It was Harvey's 112th pitch of the night, and it ended the seventh inning, two innings more than he threw in his previous start. Like all of Harvey's pitches, except his fifth of the game, when Rollins homered to lead off the game, this one did not result in a hit.

Instead, it finished off a dominant inning in which Harvey retired Utley, Howard and Ruiz in order, striking out the last two batters and hitting 98 mph on the stadium radar gun against Howard.

More important for Harvey and his development, he had met his latest goal. Harvey had not been satisfied with whizzing past icons like Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan while setting several rookie franchise strikeout records.

His previous start featured 10 strikeouts but ended after just five innings and 106 pitches. Harvey vowed he would not press for as many strikeouts, limit his pitch count and would pitch deeper into the game. He did all of those in his last start of the season.

Hamels allowed just two runs on six hits in six innings, while striking out 10 and walking one, but Harvey outlasted him and outpitched him.

The rookie gave up just the one run on the one hit, walked three and struck out seven. The 23-year-old finished the year with 169 1/3 innings combined in the majors and minors after the Mets shut him down to protect his prized young arm.

"With this being his last start, I wish we would have gotten a win for him," manager Terry Collins said of Harvey, who went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA and struck out 70 in 59 1/3 innings. "But Matt Harvey ought to spend the winter feeling pretty good about himself the way he's handled everything up here, the way he's pitched."

NOTES: Phillies rookie right-hander Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 4.95 ERA), who was originally scheduled to pitch Tuesday before the game was postponed due to a pending storm, will start Thursday's makeup game against the Mets. ... Right-hander R.A. Dickey was joined by fellow knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield to promote "Knuckleball!" the documentary that will have its premiere in New York this week. Cameras followed Wakefield and Dickey last season. The movie also features other famous knuckleball pitchers such as Niekro and Charlie Hough.

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