A certain New York sports talk radio personality has a trademark question he asks all of the time about high-profile athletes: “Can you trust him in a big spot?”
Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies has supplied a rather emphatic answer to that question over the years and it has to be ‘no’. The guy who struck out to end two of the last three Phillies’ playoff games came up small in a big spot again on Sunday against the New York Mets. When Jimmy Rollins started it off with a single up the middle and Chase Utley took a hit by pitch for the ball club, Howard insisted on hitting into the shift and the result was a predictable 4-6-3 double play.
Howard provided yet another example of why the Phillies cannot get rid of him soon enough. The 20 homers and 80 RBIs are nice, but most of them have come in games where the Phillies have either been far ahead or far behind.
Even though the Phillies had one more out, that was the end of the ballgame in a one-run loss and end of a disastrous season series against the Mets, where the Phillies — sporting a payroll more than $100 million more than the Mets — lost their 13th game of the series. Mostly, it was dumb baseball by players like Howard. First and second, nobody out and nobody playing in the traditional second and shortstop positions due to the shift meant Howard could have put down a bunt to load the bases with no one out or, failing that, just put the bat on the ball and hit to the opposite field to avoid any possibility of a double play.
The Phillies’ next batter, Grady Sizemore, hit a single to drive in Rollins. Had the bases been loaded with no outs, that single might have led to a win. That did not happen because Howard does what he wants, and now the Phillies must do what they have to do to someone they cannot trust in a big spot.