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Biggest Pieces: Highlighting Howard's career

From clutch homers to hard tackles, Phillies slugger will leave indelible mark
September 1, 2016

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies never had the opportunity to give Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz a proper farewell.They traded Rollins to the Dodgers in December 2014. Hamels was dealt to the Rangers in July 2015. The Phillies planned to announce Utley's trade during a game at

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies never had the opportunity to give Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz a proper farewell.
They traded Rollins to the Dodgers in December 2014. Hamels was dealt to the Rangers in July 2015. The Phillies planned to announce Utley's trade during a game at Citizens Bank Park in August last year, but they had to scuttle the goodbye because Los Angeles could not locate one of the players it had agreed to send to Philadelphia. Ruiz, like Hamels, got traded while the Phils were on the road.
But the Phillies will properly recognize Ryan Howard's many accomplishments Sunday afternoon in the 2016 series finale against the Mets. He is entering the final weekend of the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. Howard has a $23 million club option for '17, but the Phils will take a $10 million buyout instead.
Howard is the only remaining member from the 2008 World Series championship team, and he certainly has had some memorable moments and remarkable accomplishments along the way in his Phillies career, including winning the '06 National League Most Valuable Player Award and the '05 NL Rookie of the Year Award. asked Howard earlier this month about some of his best moments.
First hit (Sept. 6, 2004, at Turner Field)
Howard got called up to the big leagues on Sept. 1, but he got his first hit five days later, pinch-hitting for Eric Milton in the fifth inning against the Braves' Travis Smith.
"I remember it was a Web Gem for Andruw Jones. Jason Michaels was on second and I hit a ball hard up the middle. J-Mike tried to score and Andruw came up and threw him out at home plate. I just remember on 'SportsCenter' they were like, 'Andruw Jones with a Web Gem nominee. Base hit up the middle, comes up, throws out Jason Michaels at home plate. And, oh, by the way, that was Ryan Howard's first Major League base hit.' I was like, 'Oh, wonderful.'"
First home run (Sept. 11, 2004, at Shea Stadium)
Howard hits a 2-0 pitch against Mets pitcher Bartolome Fortunato for his first career homer.

"It was a whirlwind. Crazy because it's my first Major League home run. I remember when I hit it, I felt like it was pretty good. Like, I knew it was gone. But then I saw Mike Cameron giving chase to the ball and then it made me think, 'Did I not get it?' Then I saw him leap up on the fence I was like, 'Come on, man.' I saw where it landed. Whew, cool. I think I told Jimmy or Marlon [Byrd] after I came back, 'Cam had me scared out there, man.'"
Bad sliders can't stop Big Piece (May 14, 2006, at Great American Ball Park)
Howard spent the night in the hospital because of food poisoning. He did not start the next afternoon against the Reds, but Phillies manager Charlie Manuel called upon him in the eighth inning. Howard hit a pinch-hit home run against Brandon Claussen to tie the game at 1. Howard then stayed in the game and hit a game-winning homer in the 12th.

"I had some bad White Castle. I felt really weak, really tired. I remember telling Charlie I was sick and I wasn't going to be able to play. Then the game was going on and I was just sitting there. He finally came over and said, 'Hey, can you go? Can you hit, if we need you?" I said, 'I guess.' I felt terrible. But I said yes.
"Then they were like, 'Howie, we're going to need you to go to first.' Oh, OK. Then in the 12th, I came up and I hit the other one. I think it was a fastball. The thing I remember is [Ken] Griffey came up and hit a steaming line drive right at me. I caught it to end the game. I was like, 'For real?' As if I didn't already feel bad, my idol hits a rocket at me."
Lucky seven (June 20, 2006, at Citizens Bank Park)
Howard goes 3-for-4 with one triple, two home runs and a career-high seven RBIs in a 9-7 loss to the Yankees. One of the homers came against Mike Mussina and went into the third deck in right field.

"We lost the game by two."
Crushing Hudson (Sept. 3, 2006, at Citizens Bank Park)
Howard hits three home runs in his first three plate appearances against Braves right-hander Tim Hudson. The first homer in the second inning gave him his 50th of the season, setting a franchise record. He followed with a two-run homer in the third and a solo shot in the sixth.
"I don't think I had really done a whole lot against Hudson prior to that game. My mindset was just see-it-up and go from there. ... I was cool with one. That would have been a good day. Two would have been a good day. Then you get that third one. It's like, wow.
"But the significance was 50, 51 and 52, and being the only Phillies player to hit 50 in a season. I remember [traveling secretary] Frank [Coppenbarger] tried to get No. 50 back, but the fan didn't give it back. Then I hit the other two and 50 just became like, just another ball, I guess."
Clutch shot in pennant race (Sept. 16, 2008, at Turner Field)
The Phillies trailed the Braves in the eighth inning, 7-6, when Howard stepped into the batter's box with a runner on first and two outs. The Braves summoned left-hander Mike Gonzalez from the bullpen to face Howard, who hit a 3-2 pitch for a two-run homer to give the Phils the lead. The victory gave the Phillies a half-game lead over the Mets in the NL East.

"We were in the race and it was coming down to the come down. We needed that game. I remember working a 3-2 count. The funny part is I remember thinking he was going to throw me a slider, but he threw me a fastball. But I was able to just react to the fastball and hit it out oppo. I remember how huge it was and how the bench just erupted. The rest of that was history."
Two blasts in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series (Oct. 26, 2008, at Citizens Bank Park)
Howard hit a three-run homer against Andy Sonnanstine in the fourth and a solo homer against Trever Miller in the eighth in a 10-2 victory, giving the Phillies a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"I was off to a slow start in the series itself, then I hit one the night before (in Game 3), which kind of got me off the schneid. The one in Game 3 came on a curveball against [Matt] Garza. It came right after Chase's homer. I was feeling really good then. Then I got those two in Game 4. They helped put that game out of reach. Then we had Game 5, chapters one and two."
Euphoria (Oct. 29, 2008)
Brad Lidge strikes out Eric Hinske to cinch the Phils' second World Series championship in franchise history. Howard tackled Lidge and Ruiz just in front of the pitcher's mound.

"I remember [pitching coach Rich] Dubee coming to the mound when they brought Hinske up to pinch-hit. He asked Brad, 'Hey, you've faced him before. How did it go?' I distinctly remember Lidge saying, 'He waffled me.' [Laughs.] I just sat there like, 'Holy [cow], what is about to take place?' I had to try to keep it in. OK, well, he better throw the hell out of that slider here. Then he threw him the last slider, Chooch caught it, Brad goes down on his knees, Chooch comes out and I'm like, 'I'm coming in hot. I'm taking them both out.' I took both of them out, which was a terrible mistake because we both wound up on the bottom of the pile. It can get very heavy with all of those guys on top of you. But it was an awesome moment.
"But leading up to that moment when Lidge said, 'He waffled me,' and then going through the at-bat where it's like, 'OK, come on, Brad. Come on, Brad,' and then to finally get down to the last strike, you can just feel the energy inside the entire stadium. And he just throws the damndest slider that you could ever throw. It was just filthy. And that's it. Madness."
Get me to the plate, boys (Oct. 12, 2009, at Coors Field)
The Phillies trailed the Rockies in the ninth inning in Game 4 of the NL Division Series, 4-2, when Howard famously told his teammates, "Just get me to the plate, boys." They did. He stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs, when he ripped a double to right field against Rockies closer Huston Street to score Shane Victorino and Utley to tie the game. Jayson Werth followed with a single to score Howard to give the Phils the 5-4 victory.

"It was going to be big for us to try to clinch then and there and go to L.A. I just felt really good. I was like, 'Give me a shot. Get me to the plate.' There's not too many times when you feel like you're going to do something big or hit a homer or something like that, but that's what it felt like. It was close. I was just a hair out front, but it was close. Then Werthy came up and got that hit that knocked me in. It's funny because Shane missed third, and then I saw Chase sliding in right behind Shane. I hit second and I was like, 'What the hell just happened?' That was a cool one, being able to clinch the way we did."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.