NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard stood in front of his locker at Citi Field late Wednesday and tried to explain why his swing became so compact and so quick in the ninth inning after it looked so long and so slow in his first three at-bats.
"I blacked out, I guess," he said. "Maybe I need to black out more often."
Howard crushed a 0-1 fastball from Mets left-hander Josh Edgin into the upper deck in right field for a two-out, two-run home run to propel the Phillies to a 3-2 victory. It kept the Phillies' faint postseason hopes alive. They remain four games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card with 13 games to play, meaning even if they finish the season 10-3, the Cardinals would need to finish no better than 6-7 to tie.
But, hey, at least they still have a chance.
They can thank Howard for that.
It was an impressive shot, considering the time, circumstance and fact he had been hitless in his previous 18 at-bats against left-handers and had struck out 38 times in 80 at-bats against them this season.
"I was 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."
Howard is having a strange year. He opened the season on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery. He has played nearly every day since his return, but is hitting just .225 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .718 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Howard's batting average, .303 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage and OPS would be career lows if projected over the course of a 162-game season, but his RBIs project to 123 because he is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with runners in scoring position.
Howard has let the frustration get to him.
"I'm a competitor," he said. "I know I'm better than what shows. It gets frustrating at times. Sometimes you try to go out there and do more than you're capable of doing. I'll be the first to tell you, I've probably gone out there and done that a few times. I tried to tone it back today. I know it didn't really show early in the game. In that situation [in the ninth], my goal was to get Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] to the plate."
Howard only got to the plate because Chase Utley worked an eight-pitch at-bat into a walk.
"If he doesn't have that at-bat I'm not in that situation," Howard said.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has said many times how he had never been afraid to pinch-hit for Jim Thome when he managed him in Cleveland, but he said he never considered pinch-hitting for Howard in the ninth against Edgin.
"He can find ribbies," Manuel said. "He can be struggling and he can find them."
The Phillies had an unusual night. Jimmy Rollins got things going in the first inning when he hit a 3-1 fastball to right field for a home run to make it 1-0. It was his team-leading 22nd homer of the season, and the 43rd leadoff homer of his career.
Mets right-hander Matt Harvey shut down the Phillies after that. He retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced before he walked two of the first three batters he faced in the sixth. But Harvey did not allow another hit the rest of the way. In seven innings, he allowed one hit, one run, three walks and struck out seven.
The Phils picked up just one hit between Rollins' leadoff homer in the first and Howard's heroics in the ninth. But it was enough against the Mets, who fell to 4-23 at home since the All-Star break. The Mets have played 15 consecutive home games scoring three or fewer runs. To put that into perspective, the 1915 Yankees hold the big league record with 18 consecutive home games scoring three or fewer runs.
Left-hander Cole Hamels failed to pick up his 16th win of the season, which would have set a career high.
He won a career-best 15 in 2006, but fell victim Wednesday to a high pitch count and a lack of run support. He allowed just six hits, two runs, one walk and struck out 10 in six innings, but a solo home run to David Wright in the sixth handed the Mets a 2-1 lead.
Hamels needed 110 pitches to get through the sixth, so Manuel used his bullpen the rest of the way.
Hamels said he watched Howard's shot on TV in the clubhouse, where he was finishing his postgame workout.
"It was huge," Hamels said. "Especially with the delay, you get to hear the cheer twice. It's amazing to just be able to see that -- especially because we haven't had him all year and he's been able to come through and crush some homers in the past."
It gave the Phillies another day to fight. Had they dropped five back, it would have pretty much sealed their fate.
"It meant something for us, and it meant something for him," Manuel said of Howard's homer. "He needed that."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.