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07/10/08 12:56 AM ET
Happ, Howard help end Phillies' skid
Fortunes turn around behind fine start, slugger's huge shot
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- J.A. Happ kept stride in stepping over the foul line toward the dugout. As subtly as he could, he glanced upward awash in the appreciative roar of a standing ovation 44,951 fans strong. Stopping and basking would be bad form, he thought, as would a full-on doff of cap in acknowledgment. He settled on touching the brim, but never separated the red cap from sweaty dome. "I didn't want to take it off," Happ said. "That would have been too much. That was the best experience of my life right there. It was amazing, something I'll never forget. Hopefully, I can get a lot more of those." Though the decision eluded him in Philadelphia's four-game losing-streak-snapping 4-2 win over St. Louis -- won when Ryan Howard and Pedro Feliz cracked homers after the game was tied -- Happ may have earned himself another of those nights, as he tries to become the latest hurler to pitch his way into an every-fifth-day gig. As he reached the top step of the dugout, the first player to greet him was right-hander Kyle Kendrick, last year's Happ. You may remember Kendrick as the guy who arrived last season for a spot start or two, then never left. The Phillies have since gone 26-12 in his starts. The Phillies have won both of Happ's starts this season, and are 2-1 overall in starts by the southpaw. He blazed through the Cardinals offense, and allowed three hits through the six innings. He surrendered two more in the seventh with one out, when manager Charlie Manuel lifted him. "He's a competitor, and he'll come after you," Manuel said. "He's gutty. I like that. He wasn't afraid to challenge anyone. He's pitched well and we need pitching. His two starts have been very good." Happ has given the Phillies an interesting quandary. With Brett Myers' 20-day assignment in Triple-A nearly ended -- he'll start for Double-A Reading on June 12, then Triple-A Lehigh Valley on July 17 -- the Phillies can slot Myers into the rotation any time after July 22. With the ability to reshuffle their rotation after the All-Star break, they can keep Happ in Florida, return him to Triple-A or place him in the bullpen. "All I can do is go out and do what I can do on the mound," Happ said. [Wednesday] is a good day for me. I hope they feel that way as well." In the present, Chad Durbin, who was born in the same Spring Valley, Ill., hospital as Happ a few months shy of five years apart, allowed the two runners left on by Happ to score, tying the game. That's where Howard enters. His low batting average -- which climbed to .231 on Wednesday, it's highest point since April 5's .235 -- and high strikeout totals have been tolerated this season because of his penchant for hitting home runs. The fastest player in baseball history to 100 and 150 home runs cracked No. 154 into the right-field seats, unleashing the 27th sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park, who were treated to fireworks after the game. Evidence suggests that a fuse has been lit under Howard. Hitting .340 during a 12-game hitting streak that began June 27 in Texas, Howard has clubbed six homers and driven in 15 runs. His 80th RBI set a club record for most RBIs before the All-Star break, besting Greg Luzinksi's 79 in 1975. He also has 80 hits this season, appropriate since he's hit .336 with runners in scoring position. "He continues to put up some unbelievable, important offensive numbers," Lidge said. "He's delivering. Yeah, his average isn't where he wants it, but it's coming up and he's having better and better at-bats. If you throw him something over the plate, he's got as good a shot as anybody in baseball of taking it out." Howard's homer, and Feliz's follow-up shot gave Lidge a two-run lead to protect in the ninth. He began the inning by walking Skip Schumaker, setting up the always-fun battle with Albert Pujols. The duel, which didn't end well on Oct. 17, 2005, resulted in a fly to right this time. With two out, Lidge walked Troy Glaus on eight pitches, but whiffed converted pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel on three straight sliders, earning his 20th save. He also preserved Philadelphia's precarious 1 1/2-game lead over the Mets and Marlins, who both won. Howard's and Feliz's late fireworks aside, and this night belonged to Happ. "J.A. did a great job starting tonight, and we really needed a good start," Lidge said. "He does a lot of the things that Cole [Hamels] does, but has a couple more pitches. Cole might throw a click or two harder, and Cole has a Nintendo change up, but J.A.'s got some great stuff. He knows how to pitch and how to hit his spots."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.