05/05/09 12:40 AM ET
Back home, Howard's slam sinks Cards
St. Louis native ties Schmidt's club mark, boosts Blanton
By B.J. Rains / MLB.com
Howard, who has routinely put on a show for his family and friends when he returns to his hometown, again didn't disappoint on Monday night. The Phillies slugger went 2-for-3 and belted a deep 428-foot grand slam to right field in the fifth inning to bust open a one-run game and help give the Phillies a 6-1 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
"Just coming home and playing in front of my family and friends [is a thrill]," Howard said. "Here, it's like where it all kind of began. It's always a special feeling every time I come home and play in front of the hometown fans. It's something."
Howard now has seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 16 games in St. Louis. With his two hits, he is now hitting .383 in St. Louis against the team he grew up rooting for. His four-RBI performance was the fourth time that he had had at least that many in his hometown.
The grand slam was his second of the season and seventh of his career, moving him into a tie with Mike Schmidt for the most slams in Phillies history.
"That's a pretty good feeling to be doing something like that," Howard said. "Anytime you can be mentioned in the same sentence with a guy like Mike Schmidt, with this organization and with what he's done and what he is to this organization, that's always a great feeling. It's an honor to be put in that kind of category."
Starter Joe Blanton earned his first win of the year, tossing six effective innings and limiting the dangerous St. Louis lineup to one earned run and four hits. Blanton also has been strong against the Cards, improving to 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts.
Blanton had been 0-2 with an 8.41 ERA in four starts this year.
"It's kind of one of those that's not that big of a deal, but at the same time, sometimes the first one is the hardest one to get," Blanton said. "So it's kind of a double-edged sword. I wasn't pressing. I've had worse starts. I definitely wasn't pressing. I think in 2005, I started out like 0-5 in the first two months, so I've been through worse."
Blanton credited his success with a small mechanical change that he made during a recent bullpen session.
"Blanton did a good job," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "He kept the ball down better. When he missed, he was missing down. Before, he was getting the ball up but tonight he kept it down.
"The Cardinals have been a hot team. They've been hitting real good, so he did a good job on them tonight."
Shane Victorino singled and scored to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He has raised his average from .220 to .283 during the two-week tear.
The Phillies trailed, 1-0, in the fourth when Jayson Werth launched a two-run shot to right off St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse, his third homer of the season, to give the Phils the lead for good.
A scary moment quieted the stadium in the eighth, when Cardinals center fielder Rick Ankiel made a running catch to rob Pedro Feliz of an extra-base hit, but stumbled and slammed hard into the wall. After hitting the wall headfirst, Ankiel fell to the ground and hit the back of his head on the Busch Stadium warning track. After lying motionless for several minutes, Ankiel gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as he was carted off the field.
Ankiel, who never lost consciousness and had feeling in all of his limbs, was taken to a local hospital for tests after the game.
Howard walked in the first inning and singled and scored in the fourth before turning a 2-1 Phillies lead into a commanding 6-1 advantage with his long grand slam to right.
"Ryan is a very special player," Manuel said. "His home run numbers for a guy that's played as short a period of time like he's played, go through the record books and try to find somebody any better."
The Cardinals would have a tough time disagreeing.
B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.