PHOENIX - Ryan Howard stepped to the plate in the 10th inning Sunday with the burden of 18 consecutive hitless at-bats. "Stop thinking," Howard told himself. "Don't try to think." A man seated behind the Phillies dugout had heckled Howard all game. Now, he yelled again and everyone at Chase Field could hear.
"Big spot!" the fan screamed. "Game on the line! No pressure!"
A thrilling 4-2 Phillies victory emerged from Howard's bat. He snapped a fastball thrown by Matt Reynolds, an Arizona lefthander who had not allowed a run all season, for a two-run single. Howard watched the flight of the ball as it fluttered to right field. He stepped on first base, heel turned, and clapped his hands.
His timing was impeccable. In two innings, this went from being another dreadful loss to a resilient moment on a winning road trip. The Phillies were shut out for the game's first eight innings. They scored four runs on eight hits in the final two frames.
"Over the course of the year, that's how you get to be a good team - by staying after it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "You never quit. You always play the game out. As long as you have a chance, you can take a swing and be a hero on that day."
Howard was an unlikely one. Reynolds started 2013 with 172/3 scoreless innings. Jimmy Rollins singled and Chase Utley doubled to put runners on second and third.
If Howard had been producing, Arizona could have walked him with first base open. But he was 3 for his last 31 with 17 strikeouts. It was time to attack. He fouled off the first pitch. He took the next two. The fourth, a fastball low and away, landed in right field.
The Phillies carried a 4-3 record for the trip on their cross-country flight home. All three losses were by one run. It could have been better. And it could have been worse. They stranded 54 men on base in seven games. Their pitchers posted a 2.30 ERA.
For eight innings Sunday, Brandon McCarthy muzzled them. He had a 6.75 ERA before this start. He pitched eight shutout innings for the first time since Sept. 3, 2011. But Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson decided that 88 pitches were enough for McCarthy, and he turned to his closer, Heath Bell.
The Phillies had mustered seven singles in the first eight innings. Utley and Delmon Young smashed doubles off Bell in the ninth. Domonic Brown tied it with a first-pitch single to center. The fans booed Bell, and Gibson was at fault because of his questionable tactics.
"You make decisions that sometimes don't work out, and it didn't work out," Gibson said. "It was my decision."
Manuel used every position player on his roster to win. His newest arm, Justin De Fratus, earned the victory by striking out red-hot slugger Paul Goldschmidt with a runner on first in the ninth inning. Jonathan Papelbon preserved it, one night after throwing 29 pitches in a five-out save.
De Fratus pitched because Mike Adams was sidelined by back spasms. His assignment was Goldschmidt, who hit .458 with four home runs for a week before the Phillies arrived. The 25-year-old pitcher was not aware of Goldschmidt's recent tear.
"I just wanted to go up there, attack him, and see what happened," De Fratus said.
Goldschmidt worked a full count. De Fratus fired a 92-m.p.h. fastball right down the middle. Goldschmidt swung and missed. Some way to make a debut.
"It was fun," De Fratus said. "It got pretty loud. I enjoy that; I enjoy that atmosphere."
The loudest noise in the moment before Howard won the game was the rambunctious fan. An hour later, Howard wore sunglasses and reveled in his triumph.
"You hear all of that stuff," Howard said. "I didn't hear him after I got that hit, though."