It's a play few Phillies fans - or first baseman Ryan Howard - will soon forget.

With two outs in the ninth inning of the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series, and the home club losing 1-0, the slugger grounded out, ending the game and the season - then collapsed on the ground with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Over the days that followed, the reaction of most fans ranged from sympathy to disappointment to horror, despair and anger.

But some detached and curious types got to wondering: What if Howard had hit a game-tying home run?

Would he have somehow had to circle the bases on his own power, hopping or crawling in agony, as the team's fate hung in the balance?

"If Howard can't do this, the Cardinals will win," one can imagine a TBS broadcaster saying, as some excruciating spectacle played out.

After all, as Phillies fans with long memories know, hitting a ball over the fence is not an automatic homer. On July 4, 1976 - yes, the day of the nation's bicentennial - Phils catcher Tim McCarver, now a Fox broadcaster, whacked one out of the yard with the bases loaded. But as the runners waited to see if ball would be caught, McCarver passed Garry Maddox rounding first base and was called out, for a "grand slam single."

Another one happened in 1999 to give the Mets an extra-innings victory in Game 5 of the NLCS, but the hitter, third baseman Robin Ventura, touched only first base. His run wasn't needed.

You know a Hollywood writer would prefer the body-dragging storyline.

Fortunately, the lords of baseball have more compassion.

Yes, all the bases do have to be touched.

Rule 6.09 of the 2011 Official Baseball Rules begins, "The batter becomes a runner when-" and part (d) continues, stating, "A fair ball passes over a fence or into the stands at a distance from home base of 250 feet or more. Such hit entitles the batter to a home run when he shall have touched all bases legally."

But, no, Howard would not have do the touching himself.

Rule 5:10 (c)(1), in a section addressing time-outs, clearly grants an exception.

"If an accident to a runner is such as to prevent him from proceeding to a base to which he is entitled, as on a home run hit out of the playing field, or an award of one or more bases, a substitute runner shall be permitted to complete the play."

So manager Charlie Manuel could have used anybody off the bench - even a pitcher - to keep the team's hopes alive.

It's cut and dried, with no other wrinkles, said Major League Baseball spokesman Mike Teevan.