PHILADELPHIA • Ryan Howard, after taking as big a swing as he could and then trying to run out a ground ball to second base, lay along the first-base line, some 30 feet from home plate, in the ninth inning of the divisional series final here on Oct. 7, 2011.
The out was made at first base. The conquering Cardinals, 1-0 winners behind Chris Carpenter, began celebrating wildly, on their way to Milwaukee for the league championship series. Howard had to be helped off the field, on the way to the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse. He had ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon, which already had been compromised.
“The night Ryan Howard broke down is the night the Phillies broke down,” said a longtime major league front office man.
The Phillies haven’t been involved in a playoff game since that night. They finished third in the division at 81-81 in 2012. They finished fourth in a five-team division in 2013 at 73-89. They are destined to finish last this season and lose 90 or more games.
Howard, from Lafayette High and Missouri State, never really has come back since that night. Limited to a total of 151 games in the next two seasons, he totaled 25 home runs in that span, hitting .219 and then .266. This year, Howard, 34, has played 121 games and driven in 77 runs but his average is just .221.
His longtime infield teammates, second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, are 35, as is catcher Carlos Ruiz. Outfielder Marlon Byrd will be 37 next week.
And the Phillies can’t make many moves because a number of their players, such as Byrd, who is signed for next year, and lefthander Cole Hamels did not clear waivers.
So the Phillies won’t have many surprises for the Cardinals this weekend when the teams meet here for the only time this season. The Cardinals are 10-14 at Citizens Bank Park since sweeping the season-opening series here in 2006.
CARDS BETTER IN A PINCH
Featuring a three-for-three night by pinch hitters on Tuesday, the Cardinals’ pinch hitting average has risen to .230. They still have no pinch homers but the average off the bench was under .200 not that long ago.
Daniel Descalso has had two doubles and two walks in his last seven pinch-hit plate appearances. Rookie Oscar Taveras is four for nine as a pinch hitter and extra outfielder Peter Bourjos is three for nine. Matt Adams, who is second on the club in hits, also has three pinch hits in eight at-bats.
PERALTA HOME RUNS
If Jhonny Peralta proceeds, as expected, to 20 home runs for the season, he would be the first Cardinals middle infielder to hit that many since Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby had 39 in 1925. Peralta already has the club record for shortstops at 17.
“The more and more that I play I feel more comfortable when I see the pitchers a second time,” Peralta said. “I know what they’ve got.”
Peralta has hit more than 20 homers four times with Cleveland and Detroit, his last time with the Tigers (21) in 2011, but he said, “I don’t try to hit home runs. I go for good contact.”
As a young player in the Indians’ system, Peralta said he was better defensively.
“Everybody was thinking my offense was not going to be too good at the major league level,” he said, “but after I played in Double-A and Triple-A, I started to hit better.”
Seven of Peralta’s homers have come at Busch Stadium.
“It’s a little hard to hit a home run (at Busch),” Peralta said. “It doesn’t matter for me — here or Detroit — you’ve got to make good contact.”
Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.