|Take a seat, Ryan|
I went to the Phillies Business Person’s Special day game today. Cole Hamels tossed 8 innings of 1 run ball in a truly dominant performance to earn a 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants. That mattered little in the grand scheme of things.
What mattered was what can probably be considered a watershed moment in the slow burn that is the epically bad end to Ryan Howard’s career in Philadelphia. He was benched for the second game in a row. Phillies’ manager Ryne Sandberg sat the beleaguered former slugger the night before against Giants’ lefthander Madison Bumgarner, which is a completely logical and understandable move. But today’s benching not, not so much.
This afternoon San Francisco sent veteran Tim Hudson to the mound trying to cap off a 4 game sweep of the punchless Phils. If there is one moment in Ryan Howard’s career I will never forget it was the three home runs he hit in three at bats Labor Day weekend 2006 against Tim Hudson and the Braves. I remember where I was. I remember who I was with. I cherish that memory as one of the crowning jewels in the Ryan Howard legacy, I think it was homers 51, 52, and 53 on the season. So whenever Hudson’s turn comes up against the Phillies I jump in a time machine and think remember when..
In his career, Howard has never faced a pitcher more times, a total of 80 plate appearances, a .328 average on 22 for 67 hitting with 7 home runs and a 1.112 OPS. Howard had this day marked on his calendar for three weeks knowing that he might find something against Hudson he could use to his advantage. He’s a streaky hitter who hasn’t seen a prolonged hot streak in 3 years. He has little left to cling to as the strikeouts pile up, the batting average plummets, and the home runs are about as few and far between as the wins these days. Starts against Tim Hudson are something Ryan Howard has earned in his illustrious career.
Ryne Sandberg didn’t agree. The Hall of Fame player, turned manager, decided to show-up the highest paid position player in the game by not starting him against a pitcher with whom Howard has a proven track record of success. You can argue all you want to me about how much Howard has struggled of late. How much Darin Ruf “needs” at-bats. How bad Howard needs to go. I’ll tell you right now you’re not going to win that argument with me. Ryan Howard absolutely 100% deserved to be on that field today, and sitting him was a slap in the face he frankly doesn’t deserve.
But that’s where the depression sets in. Maybe Howard deserved to be on the field today because the Phillies were facing Hudson, still almost assuredly for the rest of his career his presence in the Phillies' lineup sits at “take-it-or-leave-it” status. It was just the day before that Howard tried to put things in perspective by saying “baseball is just a game” in an interview explaining his mindset during this putrid season.
He knew those comments wouldn’t sit well with fans but he said them anyway. Having played for a decade in Philadelphia, he knows damn well that is not what anybody wants to hear out of a guy who’s due to make a minimum of $60 million over the next three seasons ($25 million a year in 2015-16 and a $10 million buy-out in 17). Drink in that salary for a minute. It’s hard to take.
It’s hard to take because this is technically Howard’s first healthy season since the torn Achilles. It’s hard to take because for a full season he’s on pace to set career lows in the following categories: Home Runs (15), RBI (60), Batting Average (224), On Base Percentage (305), Slugging Percentage (377), and OPS (682).
For chrissake, the guy has two extra base hits in his last 100 at bats. His confidence is shattered. His spirit is broken. The Phillies are desperately trying to trade him by letting other teams know they will eat just about all of his salary for anything in return. If they can’t, Howard will most likely get released at some point in the next 12 months and the Phillies will spend a gargantuan amount of money with zero return on their investment. The Ryan Howard era is nearing its unceremonious end, one benching a time. Nobody wanted it to come to this, but sometimes your hand gets forced.