Ryan Howard Back to Phillies At Last


If you are a Philadelphia Phillies fan it probably seems as if Ryan Howard has been sidelined since the turn of the century. It’s only been half a season, but it seems as if it has been measured in dog years.

The straw that stirs the cheese in the Philly cheesesteak wrecked an Achilles tendon on the last play of the last game of the team’s 2011 season. For a moment the seriousness of the star first baseman’s injury was overshadowed by the club’s abrupt demise in the playoffs, concluding a season that everyone from your friendly pretzel man to Rocky around Philadelphia thought would end in World Series victory.

Instead, not only were fans disappointed about the playoff loss to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals, they were slow to realize that the 2012 season was going down the tubes simultaneously. When Howard crumpled to the ground on the final play, it had long-term implications. It’s taken almost from October to July for Howard, the Phils’ top offensive gun, to walk without a limp.

He has been active for just a few games going into the All-Star break and is batting .250. For the Phillies, it’s almost as if they made a late trade acquiring a fresh bat for the lineup, but they have so many woes it may not even matter much to their immediate prospects that Howard is back.

Still, it is good to see one of the game’s big stars healthy again. It’s not only reassuring for the Phillies, even if their pursuit of another National League East championship after five straight seems doomed, but good for fans and for the game itself. The Phils without Howard were like the Schuylkill River without rowers.

The lefty-swinging Howard stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 240 pounds. He is one of the most fearsome sights for National League pitchers to encounter in the batter’s box. He was the NL rookie of the year in 2005 and he also has a Most Valuable Player Award on his resume. Howard has also been a three-time All-Star.

Although Howard’s lifetime batting average is just .275 and he strikes out a little too often, there are few sluggers in the game that a team would rather have at the plate in the clutch. Three times Howard has batted in more than 140 runs. He has also  hit as many as 58 home runs in a year, over 40 three other times, and over 30 two more times. He is 14 homers shy of 300 for his career.

Even if Howard is 32, there was no reason to believe that he wouldn’t have been good for 30 homers and 100 RBIs this year. That hole in the batting order proved too much for the Phils to fill, though, and they reach the All-Star break as distant afterthoughts in the division race and even for a shot at the expanded playoffs.

Howard played his first game of the season Friday and cracked two hits. He sat out Saturday’s game, but played Sunday and went oh-for-four.

It’s a start. Now everyone hopes that Howard returns to the form that made him a star before the injury.