Ryan Howard dropped the black, 34-ounce Marucci bat with his right hand and watched with an entire city. Howard gazed because this ball, a Kyle Lohse change-up, sailed deep into the crisp Philadelphia night and landed in the first row of the second deck. He circled the bases in 22 seconds, pointed to his parents and fiancee, and all was right.

But it was more than that. This was a moment made for Howard, whose last taste of the postseason was the defining image of failure for the 2010 Phillies. This time, one majestic swing could ease the tension of the first five innings in Saturday's postseason opener, an 11-6 Phillies victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

He swung at the eighth pitch Lohse threw him in the sixth inning and changed the game, the series, and maybe the season.

"He just kind of left it hanging," Howard said, "and I made a good connection with it."

Phillies fans were not waving their towels or yelling with the frequency typical at Citizens Bank Park this time of year. Not with an unflappable pitcher rendered human in the span of four batters and a nightmare scenario looping for five innings.

Until Howard stepped to the plate with two runners on in a 3-1 game.

"That's what he does," Raul Ibanez said. "You watch him do it all the time."

It was no "Get me to the plate, boys," but it was another unforgettable October moment for a team that relishes fall baseball. Lohse, who pitched around Howard for a walk in the fourth inning, alternated sinkers and changeups until the count was full. He threw two changeups that Howard fouled away. The eighth pitch of the at-bat was another changeup, over the plate and belt high.

The home run was Howard's first in the postseason since Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. Two batters after Howard, Ibanez mashed a two-run homer, and a rattled Lohse allowed a Cardinals lead to morph into a Phillies rout. Beginning with Howard's swing, the Phillies scored 10 times over three innings.

"That was a tremendous at-bat," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Of course he played a big role in us winning."

And yet again, the Phillies hold an advantage in the National League division series. Since the format changed in 1995, NL teams that win the first game of the first round have won 29 of 32 series.

Howard's blast atoned for Roy Halladay's mistake, a first-inning fastball that Lance Berkman crushed for a three-run home run. The life was sucked from a ballpark and doubt crept over a 102-win team expected to win everything.

"I couldn't think of a worse start, really," Halladay said.

He was masterful after the initial stumble. Halladay retired the last 21 batters he faced, and only two balls hit by the Cardinals left the infield after Berkman's bomb. Once Howard put the Phillies ahead, everyone remembered Halladay was doing just fine after the first inning.

"That's the game right there," Halladay said. "One big swing put them ahead, and one big swing gave it back to us."

Lohse said he was exerting caution with Howard because the slugger was a .500 career hitter against him and a constant threat.

"I told myself a walk's not the end of the world right here," Lohse said. "Just trying to bury the changeup. It just didn't go down there."

After the victory, a whiteboard in the clubhouse informed the players that pregame stretch Sunday is at 5:50 p.m. Above it, Carlos Ruiz wrote "10 mas" in black marker.

With one swing, Ryan Howard started the countdown and allowed all of Philadelphia to exhale.

Crushing Kyle

Ryan Howard had a history of success against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse when Game 1 began and he had even more when it was over.

Howard was batting .500 (8 for 16) vs. Lohse before the game. With the Phillies trailing, 3-1, in the sixth inning, he smashed a three-run homer to put them ahead for good.

Howard is now 9 for 18 against Lohse with two home runs.EndText