After rallying to tie the game in the ninth inning, the Philadelphia Phillies had just the man they wanted up with two on in the 10th: Ryan Howard.
It didn’t matter that Howard had been hitless in his previous 18 at-bats, striking out in half of those. No matter that he was facing a pitcher who hadn’t given up a run all season, either.
With the game on the line, few players are better than the Phillies’ bashing first baseman.
Shaking off what had been a disappointing day and series, Howard looped a two-run single to right field, lifting the Phillies to a 4-2 comeback victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.
“When he’s going bad, he looks bad, but he can take one swing and get the game over,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said.
Shut down by Brandon McCarthy for the first eight innings, the Phillies scored two runs in the ninth against fill-in Diamondbacks closer Heath Bell. Delmon Young drove in one with a double and Domonic Brown tied it at 2 with a single up the middle.
Justin De Fratus (1-0) got a huge out with a runner on in the bottom half, striking out Paul Goldschmidt — who began the day second in the NL with 30 RBIs.
Jimmy Rollins then singled with one out in the 10th off Matt Reynolds (0-1), and Chase Utley followed with his fourth hit, a double to the corner in right.
Howard was hitless in four previous at-bats and came up against Reynolds, who had not allowed a run in 19 straight appearances to open the season.
Howard came through, though, just as the Phillies expected.
Swinging on an inside pitch, Howard muscled a ball to right that likely would have been caught had the Diamondbacks been in their usual shift for the slugger. Instead of sending the second baseman out to shallow right against Howard, Arizona had its infield drawn in and the ball landed safely on the outfield grass, allowing Rollins and Utley to score.
Jonathan Papelbon worked a one-hit 10th for his seventh save in as many chances and the Phillies had 15 hits — none bigger than Howard’s.
“That was big for Ryan to get a big hit like that,” said Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, who shook off a shaky first inning to give Philadelphia a chance. “I’m not saying that just because I was pitching, but it’s just nice to see later in the game like that.”
McCarthy had an early lead after Gerardo Parra hit his second career leadoff homer and A.J. Pollock drove in another run in the first inning off Kendrick.
Inconsistent through most of his first season with Arizona, McCarthy was sharp in his eighth start for the Diamondbacks, scattering seven singles over eight scoreless innings.
The right-hander had only thrown 88 pitches, but Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson opted to pull him for Bell, who had earned three straight saves since closer J.J. Putz went on the disabled list.
Bell blew the lead in the ninth and Reynolds was uncharacteristically shaky in the 10th, giving up four hits to see his overall scoreless outings streak end at 22 games, dating to last season.
“I guess we went the way we thought was the best way to go,” Gibson said. “It didn’t work out. We know now it didn’t work out and even if we left him in we don’t know how that would have worked out. Sometimes you make decisions and it doesn’t work out. That was my decision.”
McCarthy was solid in his previous outing, giving up three runs over 6 2-3 innings against the Dodgers, but didn’t figure in the decision after the Diamondbacks pulled out a victory in the ninth inning.
Staked to an early 2-0 lead this time, he was sharp against Philadelphia, shaking off a pair of singles in the second inning by getting groundouts and stranding runners every time the Phillies got hits.
First baseman Eric Hinske gave McCarthy some help in the sixth with a diving stop on a hard-hit ball by Howard, and shortstop Didi Gregorius ended the seventh with a double play after coming up with a tough one-hopper.
McCarthy induced another double play after pinch-hitter Michael Young led off the eighth with a single. McCarthy pitched eight scoreless innings for the first time since Sept. 3, 2011, against Seattle.
“At 88 (pitches) I was a little tired but I felt that I was at least shoring some things up,” McCarthy said. “It is an inning that I always like to go back out. The last few weeks haven’t been smooth and I haven’t really been a guy that you counted on. I would like to get that reputation back where it is a no-brainer and I get the ball in the ninth.”
Kendrick, who has struggled against Arizona, was in trouble right away on Sunday, leaving a 1-2 pitch up in the zone that Parra hit out to right. Gregorius followed with a triple to the gap and Pollock added a run-scoring single to put Arizona up 2-0 after one inning.
Kendrick settled down after that and got some help in the third, when Brown nonchalantly reached over the wall in left to rob Eric Chavez of a homer.