I never thought I would write these words:
Ryan Howard should be accorded the same best-for-the-team logic that impelled Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to bench slumping left fielder Raul Ibanez in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against nasty left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
Ibanez's replacement, Ben Francisco, started the four-run bat-around that gave the Phillies a 4-2 lead and false hope.
Now, Howard's game is in tatters. In eight postseason games, baseball's most prolific cleanup hitter since he was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year has produced zero RBIs. And he has been a liability on defense. The same slow-to-heal-completely left ankle sprain that caused him to miss 17 games and be ineffective for more than two weeks after his return is probably as responsible for his poor footwork in the field as for his inability to drive properly off his back leg while hitting.
I salute the valor of still-wounded warriors Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco, gamers all. Polly will require elbow surgery after the postseason, but he can field, run and put the ball in play. Utley, Howard and Rollins appear to be no better than a collective 80 percent in the health department.
Ironically, Howard stroked a ground-rule double to left-center and a line single to center off Giants left-handed Phillies-killer Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2. But nobody was on base for either hit.
Manuel does not
But the numbers are the numbers. In eight games against the Reds and Giants, Howard is 8 for 28 for a deceptively decent .286. But this is Ryan Howard we're talking about, a colossus who can and has carried this ballclub for weeks at a time. Three of his hits have been doubles opposite the shift.
"I think when we get guys on base, I think he's definitely trying too hard," Manuel said Friday. "I think that he wants to do something. I think that he wants to like feel like he's part of something -- I think that he's definitely trying too hard. He's thinking about, like, knocking runs in and things like that."
Only one cleanup hitter in baseball history went through a seven-game postseason series without an RBI. But Mickey Mantle didn't have to play a Division Series and League Championship Series to get to the World Series when he took the power collar in 1962 against the Giants. Tonight will be the ninth game of the Octoberfest for Howard, a man who drove home a run in each of the Phillies' first eight games last postseason, tying a major league record.
So, yeah, Ryan Howard's No. 1 booster -- me -- would play Sweeney at first today and move Game 5 hero Jayson Werth into the No. 4 hole behind Polanco. Howard can always come off the bench to potentially do damage when the Giants start the bullpen shuffle.
When Manuel sat Ibanez, the Phillies were down in the series, 2-1. Now, the defending NL champions have run out of tomorrows, and the Big Piece has struck out in 14 of those 28 at-bats he has gone without an RBI.