NEW YORK - Familiarity is one product a 162-game season breeds. At the individual level, a pitcher and batter can craft a season-long narrative, especially among division foes who face one another 18 times a season.
Ryan Howard has seen Tim Byrdak in seven of the eight games the Phillies and Mets have played in 2011. New York signed the lefthander this winter for reasons that likely included the words Ryan and Howard.
So a 2-0 count in the eighth inning of Saturday's 5-2 Phillies victory over New York triggered one thing in Howard's mind.
"He was ahead in the count," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He said he thought to himself, 'He's going to throw me a slider.' He threw it. And he clocked it. He was more or less looking for it."
A slider it was. The ball dropped into right field, a two-run double to put the Phillies ahead for good and cap another late-inning comeback at Citi Field.
"You get to see a guy a bunch of times and you try to make adjustments," Howard said. "That's the name of the game."
The Phillies scored four times in the game's final two innings. Both Howard and Chase Utley delivered key hits off lefthanded relievers brought into the game to record one out.
Cole Hamels was rewarded with a victory in New York for the first time in eight career starts. He struck out a season-high 10, overcame a bounty of stolen bases by the Mets in the early innings, and settled into an undisturbed pace.
New York starter Mike Pelfrey was in a similar groove and had retired 12 in a row before Jimmy Rollins singled with two outs in the eighth. It was the 116th pitch by Pelfrey, tying his season high, and enough for Mets manager Terry Collins, who set in motion his convoluted plan for the next three Phillies hitters.
First it was lefty Mike O'Connor, a major-leaguer for the first time in three seasons, to face Utley. With a 1-2 count, he threw Utley a curveball belt-high and Utley deposited it into left for a run-scoring single to tie the game. Rollins scored only because he stole second and was running when Utley swung.
Collins emerged again with the hook, opting for righthander Jason Isringhausen to face Placido Polanco. He walked on six pitches.
That begat yet another pitching change, with Collins summoning Byrdak for career matchup No. 16 against Howard. The 15 previous meetings between the two yielded two Howard hits - none for extra bases - and seven strikeouts.
Howard is a career .230 hitter against lefthanders - not great but significantly better than his rate in this season's first 51 games. Howard lugged a .186 batting average against southpaws into Saturday with just five extra-base hits in 70 at-bats.
"He gets a lot of off-speed stuff and I think they show him fastballs, especially in off the plate," Manuel said.
This at-bat began much like the others. Byrdak threw Howard two fastballs inside, both for balls. He came back with the slider outside and Howard pounced.
Manuel would not expect anything less from his slugger. Entering Saturday, Howard had the sixth most at-bats in the league with runners in scoring position. He has cashed in on many of those chances. His 40 RBIs are second behind only Milwaukee's Prince Fielder.
There will be more encounters with Byrdak. It could be a strikeout - that has happened three times in 2011. But twice this season, Howard has seen a Byrdak slider and generated a run-scoring hit. Saturday was another perfectly timed moment.
"It was a good piece of hitting," Manuel said.
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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