Howard jump-starts Phils win
Slugger helps team keep pace in NL Wild Card chase
ATLANTA -- Mounting strikeouts and the daunting task of trying to repeat an MVP season aside, Ryan Howard can still smack a team when he finds a juicy pitch. He doesn't lead the National League in RBIs by accident.In finding such an offering from Atlanta's Buddy Carlyle, Howard helped his teammates end a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 win at Turner Field, and stay relevant in postseason contention. Howard's two-run, two-out, first-inning homer propelled the Phillies to a much needed early lead -- allowing for some exhaling and relaxing from the visitors dugout during the season's most important month. How big was it? "Every day we talk, 'It's a big game today,'" manager Charlie Manuel said. "Tomorrow is going to be bigger ... until we get through this season. It's going to get bigger, bigger, bigger and bigger. How big? I don't know. I can't look up that far." The latest huge win -- or it is big? -- allowed the Phillies to keep pace with the Mets, who had a big win of their own in running their winning streak to five games, recovering nicely from being swept at Citizens Bank Park. A Diamondbacks win over the Padres, in a game that was on in the Phillies clubhouse, created a tie atop the NL West and kept the Phillies three games back in the NL Wild Card race. Not that the Phillies are scoreboard watching. They learned from the past two seasons that it's meaningless unless the Phillies stay close. "You have to go out and play your game and keep yourself in it," Howard said. "There's going to be times when teams catch those hot streaks, but you have to keep doing what you can. Eventually, we're going to catch a streak. You just want it to be at the right time." Carlos Ruiz added a solo homer in the second, and drove in another run with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly. Aaron Rowand provided a ninth-inning insurance run with a single. The offense supported Kyle Lohse, who rebounded from his worst outing as a Phillie to limit the Braves to two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Lohse shook off his greatest dilemma in the fifth after loading the bases with no outs on singles to Andruw Jones, Yunel Escobar and pinch-hitter Scott Thorman. Instead of wilting like in his Aug. 30 start against the Mets, Lohse induced popouts by Willie Harris and Kelly Johnson. He forced in a run by missing high and outside on a 3-2 pitch to Chipper Jones, though that was better than the fourth inning, when he surrendered a home run to Atlanta's No. 3 hitter. His biggest pitch came to August NL Player of the Month Mark Teixeira, who grounded to second. "It was tough," said Lohse, who moved to 2-0 with the Phillies, while the team is 5-2 in his seven starts. "They found the holes, then I figured I'd throw the pitches I had been throwing and I got those two pop-ups. Chipper and I had a good battle. He didn't chase. I'll take one run out of that inning." Lohse found particular success with his cut fastball. "You figure out what's working, and tonight we kind of abused it," said Lohse, who used that fastball to get Johnson to pop up. "It was working that good. The hitters will let you know. It seemed like everything I went to the fastball, they were looking for it." For a night, everything worked for the Phillies.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.