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09/15/09 11:40 PM ET

Howard biggest 'Piece' in Phils' puzzle

Plenty of sluggers, but 2006 NL MVP is club's go-to guy

PHILADELPHIA -- Manager Charlie Manuel calls Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard the Big Piece, which is a nickname that truly needs little explanation.

Howard is the force in the middle of the Phils' lineup. He is the run producer.

Phillies at a glance
2009 record: 93-69
2008 record: 92-70
NL East champs
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Information

Madson: Back in business
Werth: Heart of the order
Rollins: Awaiting breakout
Focus: One game at a time
Manuel: Mix & match
Howard: Ready for lefties
Stairs: Shot reverberates
Manuel: New rules for 'pen
Blanton: Arm around team
Pedro: Return to spotlight
Ibanez: Eyes on prize
Rollins: '07 irrelevant
Lidge: Still an option
Lidge: Killer cutter
Roster: Mulling options
Ibanez: Perfect fit
Hamels: Path of the pros
Amaro: Bold decisions
Pedro: Elated to play part
Rollins: No more predictions
Hamels: Back in business
Pitching: Staff in flux
Manuel: Keeps 'em focused
Hamels: Aims for dominance
Lineup: Imperfect but solid
Lee: Ready for playoff debut
Howard: The evolution
Rollins: Excelling on defense
Rotation: Not just big two
Manuel: Steady as she goes
Rollins: Eyes on '09 drama
Howard: The 'Big Piece'
Lee: Lifting Phils' hopes

Philadelphia certainly has other talented run producers. Chase Utley is on pace for 35 home runs and 102 RBIs, Raul Ibanez is on pace for 35 homers and 98 RBIs and Jayson Werth is on pace for 38 homers and 96 RBIs. But Howard is on pace for 43 homers and 135 RBIs, numbers he has been putting up for years.

Howard is the fastest player in baseball history to hit 200 home runs and the fastest to reach 600 RBIs since Ted Williams in 1946.

"That's why I call him the Big Piece," Manuel said.

Others just marvel at his power. Howard hit two home runs in a 6-2 victory over the Mets at Citi Field on Aug. 24: a three-run homer to left field in the first inning and a two-run homer to right field in the third.

The three-run homer could not have been more impressive. He kept his hands in and simply muscled the ball to left field. Or as Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez said to Ron Darling as he watched the replay on SNY: "This is an inside-out, Ronny! He inside-outed this ball and hit it out in this ballpark. That's impressive."

Howard crushed the two-run homer in the third over the Subway sign in right. Or as Hernandez said: "He turns on this one and he knew he got it. Inside-out to the opposite field, the exact opposite here."

Howard has had four consecutive 30-home run/100-RBI seasons to join Hall of Fame outfielder Chuck Klein as the only players in franchise history to accomplish the feat. (Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt has a franchise-record nine 30-homer/100-RBI seasons, but never in more than two consecutive years.)

Since becoming an everyday player July 1, 2005, Howard leads the Majors in home runs (212) and RBIs (610) entering Wednesday.

The next closest is Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who has 186 homers and 535 RBIs.

But Howard also seems to play his best when it matters most. He enters Wednesday's game against the Nationals hitting .307 (42-for-137) with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs in his past 35 games. He entered the season a career .313 hitter with 43 homers and 104 RBIs in September, his best marks in any month.

The Phillies will be counting on him again in October. He hit .300 with two RBIs in last year's National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, and .286 with three homers and six RBIs in the World Series against the Rays.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.