Instant Replay: Impatient Howard is Hurting
Yes, the Phillies won Game 1. Yes, Chase Utley, Jason Werth and Shane Victorino were great, and the Philadelphia pitchers were even better. Cole Hamels still looks like a world beater, and the Rays looked like they were just a part of the world he's been beating.
That being said, the game shouldn't have been that close. Why? If Ryan Howard had done his job, it would have been blown open long before the tension of the bottom of the ninth.
Howard is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career at exactly the wrong time: as the playoffs have heated up, eventually leading to this World Series. With six days away from competitive games, he looked alternately overly anxious and rusty last night, neither of which is a good thing for the man being asked to fill Philadelphia's clean-up hole in the biggest series in 15 years.
So what was Howard doing so wrong? Let's take a look back at his Game 1 at bats.
First Inning: Scott Kazmir pitching, one out, bases empty.
-- Pitch One: Kazmir starts Howard off with a breaking pitching, dropping in an 83 mile-per-hour slider that drops into the strike zone. Howard swings above it for strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Kazmir sticks with the off-speed stuff, delivering another slider at 82 mph. Howard makes contact but grounds it meekly to second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who tosses to first baseman Carlos Pena for the second out.
Verdict: One batter after being rocked for a two-run homer by Chase Utley, Kazmir gets back on track by taming a big bat, setting the stage for Howards long night.
Third Inning: Scott Kazmir pitching, one out, Jason Werth on third base.
-- Pitch One: Unlike his first at-bat, Kazmir starts with a 90 mph fastball. It misses inside and low, and Howard watches it for a ball.
-- Pitch Two: Kazmir goes back to what worked the first time, delivering an 81 mph slider that looked like it missed off the outside edge of the plate. Howard swings below the high pitch for strike one.
-- Pitch Three: Kazmir returns to fastballs, delivering an 89 mph pitch inside but at a very hittable spot. Howard fouls it back for strike two.
-- Pitch Four: Alternating back to a breaking ball, Kazmir sends an 83 mph slider outside, well off the plate. Howard is fooled, swinging wildly for out No. 2.
Verdict: This at-bat was the true start for Howard's awful night. He looked out of place and off balance the entire time, with Kazmir in complete control.
Fifth Inning: Kazmir pitching, two outs, bases empty.
-- Pitch One: Kazmir starts with an 82 mph slider that misses off the plate. Howard watches for ball one.
-- Pitch Two: Another slider from Kazmir, this one at 81 mph, is low and outside the zone. Howard watches for ball two.
-- Pitch Three: Kazmir sticks with the slider, and misses again, this time high above the zone. Howard watches for ball three.
-- Pitch Four: Needing a strike, Kazmir throws a 82 mph fastball over the outside of the plate. Give the green light, Howard swings through it for strike one.
-- Pitch Five: Kazmir goes back to sliders, and his 82 mph offering finally locates the zone. Howard swings above it for strike two.
-- Pitch Six: Another 92 mph fastball from Kazmir is high, but is close enough to elicit a defensive swing. Howard fouls it off to keep the count full.
-- Pitch Seven: For the first time, Kazmir offers Howard something other than a fastball or slider, throwing a changeup right over the outside of the plate. Howard is fooled but gets a piece of it to stay alive.
-- Pitch Eight: Another 81 mph slider from Kazmir is well high of the zone, but Howard swings anyway. He fouls it off to stay alive, but probably swung at the second pitch that would have been ball four.
-- Pitch Nine: Kazmir's 93 mph fastball misses very high and inside, giving Howard no option but to watch it in for ball four and a walk.
Verdict: The only at-bat that could be considered a positive one for Howard on the night. He was still over-aggressive once he got two strikes against him, but he was still able to scratch out a productive walk, despite his swings looking a bit wild.
Seventh Inning: J.P. Howell pitching, one out, Chase Utley on first.
-- Pitch One: A crafty lefty, Howell starts with a curveball that catches the inside edge of the plate. Howard watches it for strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Another curveball, at 82 mph, drops and hits the dirt. Howard watches for ball one.
-- Pitch Three: An 81 mph curveball is desperately low, but Howard swings anyway. Strike two.
-- Pitch Four: Howell's 81 mph curve is right over the middle of the plate. Howard swings but only fouls it back, keeping the count 1-2.
-- Pitch Five: Howell switches to a heater, delivering an 89 mph fastball that misses just high close to the outside edge of the plate. Ball two.
-- Pitch Six: Howell's fastball gets up to 90 mph, but it misses outside. Ball three.
-- Pitch Seven: Howell finishes Howard off with a curveball, with his 81 mph offering over the plate but making Howard swing well above it. Strike three.
Verdict: Another strikeout for Howard, made worse by the fact that Utley advanced all the way to third on a steal and wild pitch, underscoring another run lost that Howard could have delivered with a deep pop fly.
Ninth Inning: Trever Miller pitching, one out, Jimmy Rollins on second, Chase Utley on first.
-- Pitch One: Miller's 71 mph slider off the plate draws a swing from Howard, who misses it badly. Strike one.
-- Pitch Two: Miller sticks with the slider, missing off the edge of the plate. Howard watches it for ball one.
-- Pitch Three: Miller moves on to fastballs, and his 86 mph offering is right over the middle of the plate. Looking for a slider, Howard watches it for strike two.
-- Pitch Four: Another fastball, at 87 mph, is along the top edge of the middle of the plate. Howard thinks it's high, but he's called out on strikes.
Verdict: With a chance to deliver two huge insurance runs, Howard comes up short, looking off balance throughout his brief at-bat against the lefty Miller. In failing to hit, he makes the Rays' strategy to walk Chase Utley pay off, keeping Tampa Bay within a run.
It was a long night for Howard, but Utley's heroics helped make sure he got off the hook. The Phillies will need Howard to come through as the series moves along, and he'll need to get a lot more comfortable with the Rays pitchers. Fast.
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