One swing changed everything for the Phillies last night in a 9-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
Lefthander Randy Johnson had owned the Phillies through six innings. He had struck out the first six batters he faced. He had allowed three hits and walked none. He looked like the vintage Johnson, the one who routinely struck out more than 300 batters a season.
"He came out like a bull," Jimmy Rollins said. "He was not playing."
But Johnson allowed a leadoff single to Aaron Rowand in the seventh. Then he hit Chase Utley with a pitch and walked Pat Burrell to load the bases with no outs. Diamondbacks righthander Brandon Medders entered to face Wes Helms, but Charlie Manuel countered with Ryan Howard.
Howard smacked a first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall for a pinch-hit grand slam, giving the Phils a one-run lead.
"It felt great," Howard said. "Being able to come off the bench after not playing the last couple days and being hurt and kind of having the season start the way it has, it's kind of a relief. It's just a great feeling. It was something to help the team get back in the game, get them sparked up."
Can it provide the spark this up-and-down team needs?
The Phillies went 4-6 on their 10-game road trip through Atlanta, San Francisco and Arizona.
The trip had its moments. Tom Gordon and Ryan Madson went on the disabled list. Howard has not started since Sunday because of a sore left quadriceps that has bothered him since spring training. Manuel made some decisions Monday and Tuesday that backfired. The bullpen is remarkably thin. And the offense went stale in the first two games of this series.
So the Phillies were thankful that Howard hit the first pinch-hit slam of his career, his fourth pinch homer overall.
"It's a big hit," said Shane Victorino, who hit a two-run homer in the ninth. "He's been struggling. We really needed him. Hopefully it wakes him up. This game is frustrating, and he's been battling and working hard. I compliment him for that. Even though he's struggling, he's in the cage working every day."
Howard's last three hits have been home runs:
Yesterday's grand slam.
A two-run homer Sunday in San Francisco.
A three-run homer May 2 in Atlanta.
"You know you have to throw away to get him out," Medders said. "He jumped on a first-pitch fastball, but it was in too far. It was a good piece of hitting."
Howard's grand slam mattered because the Phillies got another quality start from Jamie Moyer. In seven innings, Moyer (4-2) allowed six hits, three runs, one walk and two home runs. He struck out four.
Moyer (44 years, 172 days) and Johnson (43 years, 241 days) were the oldest lefthanded starting pitchers to face each other in baseball history. Moyer and Johnson last faced each other on Sept. 21, 1989, in Texas.
How long ago was that? The Soviet Union and Berlin Wall still existed. Paula Abdul had a hit record. Cole Hamels was five.
It is the longest span (17 years, 230 days) that two opposing pitchers have gone between starts in history.
Moyer was pleased that he threw a clean seventh inning after allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in four of the first six innings he pitched. The Phillies were pleased that they scored two more runs in the eighth and three in the ninth as Brett Myers earned a two-inning save - his third save since he replaced Gordon as the closer.
But Howard's homer proved to be the biggest moment. He is hitting .204 with six home runs and 23 RBIs this season. Manuel hopes the bomb gets him going.
"Ryan's going to be fine," Manuel said. "Ryan is special. He's been fighting himself. When it's all said and done, he's going to have a tremendous year for us."
Manuel is hoping his 15-19 team has begun to turn a corner as it strives to reach the .500 mark.
"We need to correct some things and get consistent, but when we do, we're definitely going to get a run," Manuel said. "I think we'll be there."
Their next opportunity will come tomorrow night against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies will open a 10-game homestand.
Ringing Them Up
Arizona's Randy Johnson started the game last night by striking out six Phillies in succession.
Jimmy Rollins (called)
Shane Victorino (swinging)
Aaron Rowand (called)
Chase Utley (swinging)
Pat Burrell (called)
Wes Helms (swinging)
The record for most strikeouts to start a game is eight, last achieved by Houston's Jim Deshaies against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 23, 1986.