As the home runs and RBI have piled up this season, Ryan Howard has been receiving more and more of the Bonds Treatment, a.k.a. intentional walks in situations where the average big-leaguer doesn't receive one.
However, it wasn't until Howard strode to the plate to lead off the ninth inning on Monday that he received his official christening into the stratosphere of intimidating hitters. That's when Houston manager Phil Garner instructed reliever Chad Qualls to intentionally walk Howard, deciding that putting the winning run on first base with no outs was a better gamble than allowing Howard to see any pitches within reach.
"I've never had that before," Howard said. "Sometimes you can't explain things. It's one of those things where if that's what they want to do, they'll do it."
"I'm not surprised," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's a 50-homer guy, and he's capable of hitting it out every time he's up there."
It was Howard's 22nd intentional walk of the season and his 14th since the All-Star Break. He hit homer number 53 in the sixth inning on a pitch that was belt high and inside - a place that pitchers typically consider a safe spot against him.
Howard extended his hitting streak to 14 games Monday. He has nine homers in his last 11 games, and since the All-Star break, his 63 RBI are 19 more than the next-closest player (Carlos Beltran).
Before the game, Garner told Houston writers that he considered Howard the league's Most Valuable Player. Then he treated him like it.
Does this put Howard on a level with Bonds during his BALCO days?
"That might be putting it on thick," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who in addition to being Howard's close confidant doubles as an ego regulator for the young star. "There are situations when a team is in the playoff (race), that they aren't going to let you end the game with one swing. Anyone with power is going to have an opportunity to walk in that situation, especially in this park."
REPLAY: Chase Utley hit the second walk-off homer of his career, a solo shot with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning Monday to give the Phillies a 3-2 win over the Astros. The victory ended Philadelphia's 12-game losing streak against Houston.
Left-hander Cole Hamels allowed just three hits - two of them solo homers - over eight innings in his seventh quality start in his last eight appearances. Ryan Howard hit his major league-leading 53rd homer of the season. Rick White pitched a scoreless top of the 10th to get the win.
Notes from Philly...
"I'm hoping it's just inflammation and that rest will take care of it," said Mathieson, who talked to teammates Randy Wolf, Jon Lieber and Tom Gordon about their elbow problems. "It's frustrating because the last time I was called up, I didn't pitch well. In my mind, I was going to dominate (Saturday). I felt great in the bullpen, then something like this happens."