FOR ONE GAME, it was 2006 again.

The Rockies intentionally walked Ryan Howard in the third inning, loading the bases in the middle of a Phillies rally. Later, in the sixth inning, Howard scored from first base on a one-out double that was cleanly fielded. It turned out to be the winning run in a three-game sweep that had Howard stamped all over it.

For one weekend, it was 2006 again.

Howard hit a grand slam in the fifth inning Friday night to break open a tie ballgame. He did so with a perfect sense of drama, since the Phillies inducted Jim Thome into the Wall of Fame before the game. Thome had been a blockbuster free-agent signing in 2003, and his Bunyanesque presence at first base blocked Howard from ascending from the minors. The situation never turned acrimonious and was resolved after Thome got hurt and Howard replaced him, won the rookie of the year in 2005, the National League MVP award in 2006 and anchored the Phillies' lineups that began a string of five NL East titles in 2007, including trips to the World Series in 2008 and 2009.

Those days are gone forever. It will never be 2006 again for Howard; his hands have slowed and his legs are diminished and he's 36 years old.

The Phillies owed him $25 million to play this year and $10 million to not play next year (buyout option), so they held on to him through the non-waiver trade deadline Aug. 1 in hopes that someone might make an offer before the next deadline, Aug. 31, an offer that would bring them some sort of minor leaguer or some sort of salary relief or something.

That hasn't happened. It isn't going to happen. There's nothing left to do, save the honorable thing:

Set him free.

Let him play one more series, one more visit from Chase Utley and the Dodgers, then set him free after the game on Thursday.

Not since May 2015 has Howard been this valuable to another team. Let him go there, wherever "there" is. Let him go taste one more September that matters. Let him go feel the chill of one more October.

The Phillies stand 6-1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot with six teams ahead of them. The postseason seems unrealistic. So, release him.

This would not be acrimonious or disrespectful. This would not be like Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees: a self-promoting, phony drug cheat excised with scorn and contempt by a franchise that usually treats its players like princes.

This would be warm, and wonderful, and wise.

This would reward Howard for selling millions of tickets and millions of bits of memorabilia. This would be a fine send-off to a war horse who, for a decade, gave a generation of Phillies fans their very own Big Friendly Giant to adore.

The BFG seemed stunned by the prospect.

"I haven't thought about anything like that, to be honest," Howard said Sunday.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak offered no response to a question about the matter, but he's supposed to be a smart guy. This must have occurred to him.

In a little more than two weeks, a lot of young hitters will need September at-bats. It wouldn't hurt to give Tommy Joseph some plate appearances without Howard's towering shadow looming a few lockers away. Joseph is slumping again, hitting .167 over the last three weeks.

For three weeks, it has been 2006 again.

Howard has hit .417 with three homers and 10 RBI. He's hitting .196 for the season, true, but, against righthanded pitching, he has 16 homers and a .455 slugging percentage.

Also...that first-to-home speed!

"I was looking for (third-base coach) Juan Samuel coming around second, because there's a point of no return for me," Howard said. "These days, it's about three steps past second base."

Yes, he looked a little like Babe Ruth circa 1934 rounding third and heading for home.

Yes, the intentional walk came after the pitcher uncorked a 1-0 wild pitch to Howard, which let the runners advance to second and third. Walking Howard simply loaded the bases to set up a doubleplay possibility with one out...but it did bring to the plate Cameron Rupp, who might be the Phillies' most dangerous hitter. (Rupp drove in a run.)

Remember, too, that on Wednesday, with one out in the ninth inning, the Dodgers intentionally walked Freddy Galvis to load the bases and get to Howard. He promptly cleared the bases with a game-clinching double.

Walking Freddy Galvis to get to Ryan Howard is sort of like jumping into a lion's cage to escape an angry housecat.

Galvis is a 5-10, 185-pound pop-gun who has a career-high 11 home runs over the first 4-1/2 months of this season. In 2006, Howard hit 13 homers in May, then 14 in August.

Howard's intentional walk Sunday was only his second of 2016. He was intentionally walked 37 times in 2006, just one fewer IBB than Barry Bonds.

But, again, this isn't 2006.

This is lightning in a bottle.

It is lightning that the Phillies should just let go.