A pair of Ryan Howard homers accounted for all four Phillies runs, more than enough for 2009 ace J.A. Happ, as the Phils dumped Atlanta 4-1 to take two-out-of-three in a crucial road series.
Summary: Showcasing a swing that has rarely looked better, Howard rocked Javier Vazquez for a solo shot in the second, which was followed by a majestic three-run bomb in a breakaway sixth. Happ, who improved to 9-2, allowed six walks, but limited the damage to a Matt Diaz solo shot and two additional hits through 7 2-3 innings. The Phils used Ryan Madson to complete the eighth, then gave Scott Eyre a crack at completing the save after retiring the first two left-handed batters he faced in the ninth. But after Eyre walked Greg Norton, Charlie Manuel got cold feet and summoned beleaguered closer Brad Lidge, who got Omar Infante to pop out to end the game. With the win, completing an impressive 5-1 road trip, the Phils increased their division lead to 4.5 games over the Marlins and stopped the Braves' momentum cold, knocking them 6 back.
Beerleaguer: When he's locked in, Howard is all the Phils need when they get the kind of outings Joe Blanton and Happ provided this weekend. There simply isn't a more dynamic force in baseball than No. 6 when he's hitting this way, capable of carrying a team through prolonged stretches, just as he is now. It's a night and day difference when Howard stays on the ball; one of the best swings in the game in my opinion when he stays back on it.
He's also murdering right-handed pitching. Absolutely destroying it. He's a 1.055 OPS hitter against it. That's going to play well against a succession of hard-throwing right-handed starting pitching like he saw this entire road trip. That's no small factor in his surge.
Turning to Happ. He's everything Cole Hamels hasn't been this season, not just the record, but the poise, the pitches. But what we saw tonight, most of all, was another team without a book on the rookie left-hander. Happ deserves credit, but the Braves didn't exactly press the issue.
To the bullpen, Madson has regained trust and has picked it up lately, and Scott Eyre has been rock solid all season. With Lidge floudering, it's nice to know there's a support system.