Sentimentality permeates the air at Citizens Bank Park every summer on the night the Phillies induct someone into their Wall of Fame. On Friday the honor went to Jim Thome (see story), and about two hours later, the first baseman whose arrival in the majors forced the Phillies to trade Thome delivered the biggest hit of the night.
With the bases loaded, one out, the game tied and Rockies right-hander Jon Gray on the ropes, Ryan Howard hit a 457-foot bomb to right-center. His 14th career grand slam resulted in his first curtain call in quite a while, and it helped rookie Jake Thompson to his first big-league win, a 10-6 Phillies victory (see Instant Replay).
Thompson's second start was smoother than his first. After allowing four first-inning runs last Saturday in San Diego and six total, he gave up three runs on two hits and three walks over five innings Friday. Thompson struck out six, including four in the second inning, when the leadoff man reached on a dropped third strike. Thompson didn't even realize he struck out four in an inning — becoming only the second Phillie ever and first since 1902 to do so — until he was back in the clubhouse icing his arm in the the eighth inning.
"I felt a lot more comfortable out there," Thompson said. "I was able to spin the ball for strikes tonight, which I wasn’t able to do in my first outing. ... A little lack of fastball command tonight, but a lot of other pitches were better tonight than they were in my first one."
Thompson's secondary pitches were definitely better this time, particularly his slider, his most effective pitch with two strikes. His fastball command wasn't as sharp as he would have liked — Thompson fell behind 2-0 on all four hitters he faced out of the stretch in the second, and then walked three batters in the fifth.
But he showed some pitchability against a tough Rockies lineup. With the bases loaded in the fifth inning and one out, Thompson retired MVP candidate Nolan Arenado and rookie sensation David Dahl to keep the game tied.
"Tall order for Thompson to face this team. This is a darn good hitting team," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His command wasn’t the greatest, but he battled, and like I said this is a very tough team. They’ve got a great offense."
The Rockies usually have a great offense. And they're always significantly better at Coors Field than they are on the road. The only regular in their lineup who doesn't have drastic home-road splits is centerfielder Charlie Blackmon, who hit three home runs Friday.
Luckily for the Phils, all three were solos. Howard's was not. He's as locked-in right now as he's been for the better part of the last two years, hitting .386 since the All-Star break with four doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs. If Howard hits like this for another week, a contending AL club in need of a left-handed hitting DH — the Astros come to mind — could finally come calling (see story).
After all, Howard is slugging .462 against right-handers — two points higher than Giancarlo Stanton and 12 better than Bryce Harper.
"If I were a playoff team, I’d take notice," Mackanin said. "What he did tonight is something he’s capable of doing, either as a DH or a pinch-hitter off the bench. He’s just swinging the bat, coming up with big hits. I’m happy for him."
Howard says he's not thinking about trades, or curtain calls, or the impending conclusion to his storied Phillies tenure. He's living in the moment.
"Really and truthfully I’m just taking it as it comes," Howard said. "Not trying to put too much thought into anything, just trying to keep it simple."
Howard did feel some pride in helping Thompson to his milestone victory. There will be more to come, especially if Thompson misses as many bats as he did Friday night. Several nights after Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez failed to put the Dodgers away out west, Thompson induced 11 swinging strikes.
"It’s huge, especially up here," Thompson said of missing bats. "Some of these guys are extremely good at fastballs in the zone, they don’t miss. Being able to miss a bat here and there is a big deal.
"It’s awesome. Kind of nice to get the first one out of the way and hopefully getting a little bit more confidence, getting more comfortable on the mound and keep it rolling."
Thompson's next start is lined up for Thursday at home against the Dodgers.