For one of the best 72-71 teams in MLB history -- and one which is identified by its players with colorful nicknames such as "Conine The Barbarian," "Moyer The Destroyer," "Burrell The Pearl," "Alleged Espousal Abuse," "King Arthur & The Knights of the Rhodes Table" and "One-Ninety-Eight-Hitting Noonie" -- it seems only natural that phans of the Fightin' Phils would find it necessary to establish a distinct moniker for their slugging first baseman, Ryan Howard.
Face it: Howard's 56 HRs are the thing of folklore -- and with three weeks remaining to play -- the demand is high for a sluggin' first sacker with a name fit for a Woody Guthrie-ish/Terry Cashman-esque folk ballad.
Funny, but seeing how Ryan Howard turned out to be the player that we all thought that Hard-Hittin' Mark Whiten was going to be, well ... damn you, Whiten The Kitten, for possessing a surname with better rhyme-scheme than Ryan Howard's.
So, what choices have we?
"Hammerin' " Howard -- like Hammerin' Hank Aaron?
"Cool Papa" Howard -- like James "Cool Papa" Bell?
Crime Dog -- like that McGruff guy?
Since those were once the property of previous diamond stars, they won't fly with Howard.
Speaking of what flies ... "Big-Fly Ry"????
Seeing how the Pitchfork, Mrs. PF7 and SuperDawg reside in HOWARD County (seriously, we do), we simply refer to all things beyond Howard County as "HOWARD Country, USA."
And, as proud residents of Howard County (a proud subsidiary of Howard Country, USA), we were pleased to see the highlights last Fri. of Big-Fly Ry swattin' HR's No. 55 and 56 -- mostly because he now has the 2006 home run lead all to himself.
Well, for those of us who watched the Little League World Series, we were reminded often that Kyle Carter of eventual-champion Columbus, GA had 54 homers this season.
So they said.
Interestingly, 26-year-old Ryan Howard is listed at 6-4/252.
Everybody's lovable big lug from the Transatlantic all-stars -- 13-year-old Aaron Durley -- is listed at 6-8/256.
Since he's still getting used to growth spurts n' such (and since he doesn't swing a 36-ounce stick of white ash, but rather a teeny aluminum twig), Durley doesn't dominate at the Little League level.
However, that nickname-less Monster Masher named Ryan Howard pulverizes fastballs as if they're pitched by 13-year-olds.
It's been a treat to watch.
Well, a treat for those of us not obsessed with affixing suspicion and skepticism to America's latest longball legend.
However, in this, the era of WeMustRidTheGameOfPerfomanceEnhancers(ForTheSakeOfTheChildren), Homer Hero Howie is likely to be labeled " 'Roid-Ragin' Ryan."
Why must those bastages engage in this modern-day McCarthyism? Why do these chumps get a hard-on by linking a ballplayer to juicing or 'roiding without a smidgen of proof (read: direct evidence).
The smear tactics are intense at first, but then they usually peter out.
Most recently, Gregg Doyel of CBS SportsLine.com used the ol' "guilt-by-association" tactic to imply that Heavy-Hackin' Howard MIGHT be a juicer or a pill-popper or a heroin mainliner or a crackhead or whatever it was that Doyel was hinting at just because How Far Howard has 56 jimmy jacks.
Now, no one's saying that Doyel is a floor-wax-huffing bisexual who routinely uses his teenage boyfriend's face as as a punching bag, but no one's saying he's not, either.
It's just that when the next John Wayne Gacy arrives and sexually tortures, murders and mutilates 33 boys and buries them under the crawl space of his home, we shouldn't be surprised to hear ourselves saying, "He seemed like such a regular guy, what, with his job at CBS SportsLine and all. His reporting seemed so balanced and fair, who'da thunk he was a sexual predator with an appetite for murder?"
Not that Doyel is.
It's just that when these sickos are brought to light, we find that these once-assumed regular guys assimilate themselves in our society as our neighbors, our schoolteachers, our pastors, our plumbers, our CBS SportsLine senior writers.
Not that Doyel is a Satanic-worshipping, Quaalude-poppin' pedophile.
But, as he suggested with Ryan Howard, looks can be deceiving.
And, if the Philly Fence-Buster is juicin' (which it sez here, he is not), America doesn't care.
Attendance at MLB games continues to break records (because of the jimmy jack) .. proof ("direct evidence") that America wants its jimmy jacks, be they solo or grand salami.
Furthermore, if we allow assumed closet NAMBLA members leading the Crusade of Hate against anabolic steroids and HGH, then we'll need to construct several concentration camps for approximately 2,000 current and former NFL linemen and 2,500 current NCAA Div. I-A linemen.
That's when we remember Colonel Jessup barking at us from the witness stand.
"Son, we live in a world which has walls. And those walls have to be protected by men with guns. Who's going to do it? ... you?! You, Lieutenant Weinberg?"
But, for those of us who believe that Ryan Howard is clean for no other reason than we respect guys named Howitzer Howard who hit bazooka blasts over those walls guarded by men with guns, what a wild two weeks Deep Six has given us.
The ballad of Hackin' Howie are as follows:
Tues., Aug. 29 -- His 3-run jack in the 6th inning at RFK against the Nats' Kevin Gryboski gives Howie 48, tying the team record set by Schmidty during the unforgettable '80 season.
Thurs. Aug. 31 -- Hackin' Howie hits a Phillies team-record 49th HR ... off Pedro Astacio in the 4th at RFK, tying the game 2-2. Hackin' Howie goes 2 for 2 with two walks, but the Phils lose a heartbreaker after leading 4-2 in the 9th and 5-4 in the 10th.
Sat. Sept. 2 -- Following a Fri. rainout at The Cit, Big-Fly Ry hits no big flies in a double-dip split vs. The Atl, although he does go 3 for 7 with a double and three BBs.
Sun. Sept. 3 -- Sometime between games of the Sunday twinbill which followed the Sat. double-dip, the Ol' Pitchfork used his buddy, Mr. Shovel, to behead a snake in the backyard ... a snake which was beginning to wrap its jaws around a wounded toad.
Before the foot-long serpent could do further damage, he was decapitated.
A little earlier, Howard Power used his potent shovel to behead Tim Hudson -- first with a solo pump leading off the 2nd (#50) ... then with a 2-run bomb in the 3rd (#51) ... and, finally, as they say, by going "oppo" for a solo shot in the 6th (#52) which put the Phils up, 6-1. After another Madson Mound Meltdown which allowed Tomahawk Chop to take a 7-6 lead in the top of the 9th, RBI singles by J-Ro and the Flyin' Hawaiian win it in the bottom of the 9th.
In the nightcap, Howard goes 2 for 4, but the Phils lose, 3-1.
For the weekend, Howard goes 9 for 15.
Mon. Sept. 4 -- Hard-Hackin' Howie avenges the death of Steve Irwin by stingray-stinger barb by muscling up for #53 against Astros journeyman P Russ Springer. The solo blast puts the Phils up, 2-1, in the 6th and offsets a game-tying HR by Charlton Jimerson, who, in his first MLB AB, was PHing for Roger Clemens.
The Phils eventually win, 3-2, on Chase Utley's walk-off HR.
Tough break for Steve Irwin.
And for Charlton Jimerson.
Tues., Sept. 5 -- A rainout. The world continues to mourn Steve Irwin.
Weds., Sept. 6 -- Wild-card playoff hopes diminish ... Houston wins, 5-3, as Lance Berkman employs one of the worst-looking, inside-out swings ever to trickle a 3-run 2B into the LF corner to snap a 2-2 tie. It's just another night at the office for the Madson Mound Meltdown ... amusing when one considers how The "Other" (And Less-Talented) Ryan on the Phillies' roster leads the team in wins (10) despite an ERA hovering around 6.00.
Either way, Round-Tripper Ryan goes 0 for 4 and provides no round-trippers in what could have been an ideal format for Burrell The Pearl to showcase his talents.
Pat The Bat's 0 for 3 effort belies the fact that he's giving it "the old college try" -- unlike Abreu, the ex-Phillie scoundrel who put up 25/100/.300 every year because, in his world, it's all about me, me me ... not like Burrell The Pearl, who bats .258 for the betterment of baseball in Philadelphia.
Thurs. Sept. 7 -- One night after (Out Of Baseball Entirely By 2011) Anibal The Animal Sanchez becomes the latest in the list of Nobodies Who Pitch No-No's, the Phils invade Dolphins Stadium and pound out 17 hits in a 14-8 victory.
Chocolate Thunder clouts #54 against Josh Johnson, the 6-foot-7 rookie who nobody's heard of, but who entered the game with a 12-6 record and a 2.99 ERA (including an 8-2 record since the first week of June).
Ry-How's solo jack snaps a 3-3 tie in the third, but more important ... two innings later, R.H. puts the Phils ahead, 5-3, when he scores on a fielder's choice by Abraham Nunez.
Although there is no official confirmation from the Elias Sports Bureau, it is believed that this is the first time in MLB history that a player who hit his 54th HR of the season also scored a run on a fielder's choice supplied by a sub-.200-hittin' third baseman.
Fri., Sept. 8 -- Trailing by a 1-0 score in the 6th inning against no-name Scott Olsen (12-6) -- and realizing that the 2006 Wild Card Champions pennant might be forever slipping from their grasp -- the Phils send out the Bat Signal for "Big Misery From Missouri."
Olsen feels the full impact of Big Misery's wrath -- a 2-run dong in the 6th (#55) which puts the Phils up, 2-1, and then a solo dinger in the top of the 8th (#56) for a 3-1 lead.
The sum of those blasts translates to a 3-2 win.
Sat., Sept. 9 -- Big-Fly Ry goes 2 for 2 with 4 walks, although Chase Utley homers twice. The Phillies tie the score in the 9th on an RBI single by Conine The Barbarian, but lose it in the 10th when King Arthur issues three walks to Marlins batters. A 4-3 loss ... the season's probably over.
Sun., Sept. 10 -- The Phillies get only 3 hits against The D-Train (Dontrelle Willis) in a 3-0 loss -- and two of those hits are by the H-Train (Engine Number Six).
Because Ryan Howard -- the player that we thought Mark Whiten would be ... the player that Mo Vaughn wished he'd be -- was unable to orchestrate any 5-run homers on Sat. and Sun. in FLA., he probably cost himself the MVP.
He's been showing off for the past two weeks. To wit: In the final 6 games of Aug., The H-Train was 9 for 19 with 5 HRs and 14 RBI.
In the first 10 games of Sept., The H-Train is 19 for 34 with 7 HRs and 10 RBI.
That's frickin' insane. That's 16 games with a .528 avg., 12 HRs and 24 ribbies.
That's nuts. Junior-college players wish they could put up those numbers.
Alas, calling attention to yourself in that manner is not the Pujols Way.
So, Albert will probably get the MVP.
Because the Phillies' pitching is piss-poor.
It's all Heavy-Hittin' Howard's fault for burning himself out like that and carrying the team for two weeks. Pat The Bat took a more-prudent approach, electing to "conserve" so that he has something in the tank for the NLDS and the NLCS.
This explains why he's batting a crisp .115 (3 for 26) in Sept.
Pat The Bat understands "pace" ... and "picking your spots."
For the record, Burrell's streak of "consecutive games without a stolen-base ATTEMPT" is up to 283.
That's an impressive ironman streak ... a compilation of games spent standing at first base and waiting for the next two batters to hit ground-rule doubles to get the dumptruck home.
Rick Reilly agrees.
In fact, Reilly said on Dan Patrick's radio show last week that he would not embrace Ryan Howard due to all this suspicion and uncertainty stirred up during the "steroid era."
Again ... lots of negative talk in lieu of direct evidence/real proof of any wrongdoing.
And, that's okay.
Because in this modern era of "writers" such as Jayson Blair of the New York Times and James Frey of his fabricated best-selling "A Million Little Pieces," there is a move afoot to discount (read: "totally dismiss") any viewpoints offered by so-called "authors."
Wrong-Writin' Rick Reilly?
Never heard of him (although, he would've sounded more astute if only he'd resorted to the ultimate writer cop-out of the 21st century and said of Ryan Howard's feats ... "It is what it is").
In this September of sorrow, America needs Big-Fly Ry more than ever -- in the upbeat, star-spangled manner as demonstrated by McGwire and Sosa saving the game in '98 (or like Bonds, who provided reaffirmation in '01 after 9/11 interrupted his quest for "73").
Some anti-longballists want to label him as Black Cloud Howard. The rest of us, well ... we're regular folks who live in Howard County, located in the heart of Howard Country, USA.
And we realize that ya can't spell "H-O-W-A-R-D" without an "H" and an "R" ...