PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Howard's World Series can be summed up like this: Swing and a miss.
Over and over, Howard has gone down swinging against the New York Yankees. The Philadelphia Phillies' slugger has struck out 12 times in the first five games, tying Willie Wilson for most whiffs in a World Series. Wilson did it with Kansas City against the Phillies in 1980.
Howard has been prone to striking out throughout his career. The 2006 NL MVP fanned 199 times in 2007 and again in 2008. Only Arizona's Mark Reynolds has K'ed more times in one season.
But Howard usually mixes in few towering homers and other big hits to go along with his strikeouts. Not against the Yankees. Howard is batting.158 (3 for 19) with no homers and one RBI in the Series.
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"Ryan Howard is more than just a power hitter," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Tuesday. "When he's really good, he's a very good polished looking hitter. But at the same time, when he's struggling, I think it's a little bit of both. It's the pitcher and the fact that he's not following the ball. I can tell you exactly what gets Ryan in trouble. It's kind of up to him. The pitcher doesn't have nothing to do with it. Basically he's just (not) completely following the ball. (When) he's staying on the ball, following the ball, and when he does that, usually things come around for him."
Maybe the six-day layoff after the NL championship series affected Howard because he was having an incredible postseason to this point. Howard was named MVP of the NLCS after hitting .333 (5 for 15) with two homers, one double, one triple and eight RBIs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He batted .375 (6 for 16) with three doubles and six RBIs in the division series against Colorado.
Howard had at least one RBI in eight straight postseason games, tying the major league record first set by Lou Gehrig more than seven decades ago and later tied by Alex Rodriguez this year.
Now he's lost his stroke at the worst time. The defending champion Phillies trail New York 3-2 heading into Game 6 at Yankee Stadium tonight.
"I think we've made good pitches to him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think we've changed speeds on him, we've moved the ball around him. He's an extremely dangerous hitter, and if you don't make pitches, you're not going to get him out, and he proved that in the first two rounds. But our guys have done a good job of just moving the ball around on him."
Howard ripped a double off CC Sabathia his first time up and doubled off Phil Coke in his last at-bat in Philadelphia's 6-1 win in the opener. Since then, he's 1 for 14 with a bunch of Ks. Howard struck out six straight times in one stretch, including four in Game 2. He broke that streak by popping out with two runners on in a key spot in Game 3 and then fanned his next two trips.
The left-handed hitting Howard has faced all lefties except for A.J. Burnett and Mariano Rivera. He's 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and two walks against Burnett, and looked at a third strike in his only at-bat facing Rivera.
Somehow Howard has been successful against Sabathia. He's 2 for 6 with three strikeouts against the Yankees ace. Andy Pettitte, who'll start Game 6, struck him out twice and retired him on an infield fly.
"We're making some pretty quality pitches against him," Pettitte said. "In the first game, CC left a few balls in the heart of the plate, and he hit them hard. And I don't think that there's been a whole lot of balls left in the middle of the plate there for him to hit.
"When you see a guy, especially as hot as he was coming into a series, we're just not giving him a whole lot of balls in the zone to hit. If we have left a couple in the zone, we've been fortunate enough to get him out. He's missed them, popped them up or whatever."
Howard finished the regular season with a .279 average and 45 homers, and his 141 RBIs tied Milwaukee's Prince Fielder for most in the majors. He became the fourth player to have four straight seasons with 45 homers and 130 RBIs, joining Babe Ruth (seven), Ken Griffey Jr. (four) and Sammy Sosa (four).
Can the Phillies win the next two games without a contribution from their cleanup hitter?
"Yeah. Yes, we can," Manuel said. "We can win it easier if he hits."