LOS ANGELES - Given the omnipresence of paparazzi in these parts, the most remarkable part of the power lunch that went down in SoCal on Tuesday was the fact that it went undetected. With the Phillies in town for their three-game series against the Dodgers, first baseman Ryan Howard met up with major league home-run champ/offseason mentor Barry Bonds for some food and conversation at an L.A.-area restaurant.
That night, Howard hit a three-run homer off of Dodgers righthander Ronald Belisario, his first extra-base hit since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 21.
"We had a good conversation," said Howard, who worked out with Bonds in Tampa, Fla., this offseason. "Some of it was about baseball, some of it was everyday, shoot-the-breeze type stuff, everyday conversation . . . Just went back and reiterated what we were talking about before, earlier in the year, and then tried to go put it in play."
The lunch - Howard described his entree as a veal/chicken-parmesan-style dish - appears to have paid dividends. Howard, who went 4-for-36 with 16 strikeouts in his first nine games back from a sprained ankle, hit a double to deep right-center yesterday in the Phillies' 5-1 win over the Dodgers.
He said he has kept in touch with Bonds, the all-time home run leader with 762, periodically during the season.
Bonds, who has been dogged by steroid allegations, was unable to land a job after the 2007 season, despite posting a 1.045 OPS and 28 home runs in 477 plate appearances that year.
"I give him a call from time to time," Howard said. "He's happy. He looks like he could still play if he wanted to."
In his first 13 games back from a 7-week layoff due to thumb surgery, Chase Utley went 9-for-49 with two doubles and four RBI. In his last last two games, Utley has gone 5-for-9 with three doubles and two RBI.
"I think it's just ABs [at-bats]," hitting coach Greg Gross said. "You sit out 2 months, and then you come back, it's like the end of the season you stopped hitting and somebody tells you that you have a game at Christmas. You don't just turn it on. I think it's easier to do if it's earlier in the year, but now pitchers are established, they've got their stuff together and everything else and you are sort of going through that first part of spring training all over again. Whereas earlier in the year, pitchers are trying to find themselves, too. But to his credit, he knows his swing and he knows pitchers and everything probably as well as anybody. I think he's going to be fine."
Said Utley, who went 3-for-5 with three doubles and two RBI yesterday: "All it takes is one good swing to feel good, so today was a positive, driving in a couple runs, driving the ball a little bit. That's a good sign."
Timing is everything in baseball, and Paul Hoover is walking proof. Back in May, the Phillies called him up to replace backup catcher Brian Schneider, whom they placed on the disabled list with a left Achilles' strain. Hoover filled in admirably, getting three straight starts in Milwaukee and going 5-for-10 with two RBI and six runs in the Phils' three-game sweep.
But a month later, when Carlos Ruiz suffered a concussion after being hit on the head with a bat against Minnesota, Dane Sardinha got the call from Lehigh Valley. That's because Hoover had recently returned from the disabled list with a minor knee injury.
Sardinha ended up hitting three home runs in 13 games before Ruiz returned. Hoover, meanwhile, kept waiting for his next chance.
"When [Ruiz] came out of that game I was actually on the DL, then two games later I played my first game, and that's when they put Chooch on the 15-day," said Hoover, whom the Phillies called up yesterday to serve as an emergency catcher through the rest of the season. "Selfishly speaking, yeah, I wanted to be the guy. But at the same time, I hadn't played in 2 weeks, so was it realistic that I was going to get called up and be expected to play at the big-league level without having played in 2 weeks? No. Selfishly speaking, I wanted it to be me. But realistically, that wasn't the case."
Yesterday, the first day teams were free to add extra players to their rosters, the Phillies selected Hoover over Sardinha, who entered yesterday hitting .218 with five home runs.
Patrick Murray's seventh-inning single scored Stephen Malcolm to break a 3-3 tie and Geancarlo Mendez added a two-run double later in the inning as the visiting Phillies topped the Rays, 6-3, to even their best-of-three Gulf Coast League championship series at one game apiece.
The Phils will host the deciding Game 3 today at noon.
Marshall Schuler earned the victory with three scoreless innings of two-hit baseball.