For a time, it seemed like Ryan Howard's return to the Phillies lineup was going to come down to the wire, thanks to a pitcher's duel that was setting the stage perfectly for some late inning heroics for the slugger.
Unfortunately, for the Phillies and Howard, the game unfolded in disappointing fashion, as Kyle Kendrick's seven shutout innings went to waste, as the bullpen once again folded in the late innings to give the win – and the first game of the series – to the Atlanta Braves.
After ending the 2011 season in a heap on the first base line, Ryan Howard has been a non-factor in 2012 as he rehabbed his injured Achilles. And despite a very positive prognosis when spring training began, the first baseman was unable to make his return to the big leagues until Friday evening.
His return was a sight for sore bats, as it gave the lineup some much needed pop and the fans a much needed source of joy. And predictably, Howard received an uproarious standing ovation in his first at bat of the game, and like Chase Utley, he made his presence known immediately, as he roped a double to deep right center field. And in true 2012 Phillies fashion, he was stranded there.
He grounded into a double play in his next at bat in the fourth, singled in the seventh, and grounded out in the eighth. Not a bad day at the office for the big man, considering that he isn't 100%, and isn't likely to be for the remainder of season.
Any warm and fuzzies that the fans may have had during his return went away in the eighth inning, as Antonio Bastardo allowed five runs on three walks and a pair of hits (including a grand slam from Brian McCann). That was far more than Atlanta needed, as the Phillies wouldn't get much of anything going in the final two innings.
It was the second time in two weeks that the Phillies have been embarrassed as they welcomed back one of their injured superstars. When Chase Utley returned last month, they proceeded to blow an early lead as they lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates. I tell ya, these young kids don't have any respect for their elders.
All things considered, it is really, really great to have Ryan Howard back in the lineup. Despite an obvious sort of limp when he rounds the basepaths, there is some comfort in knowing that the Phillies have a first baseman who can go deep at any given moment. And while he won't be the savior of the season, at least fans can look forward to some towering home runs, because, hey, dingers!
Only time will tell if Howard can return to form this season, and whether or not he will have any sort of measurable impact on the offense. Whatever happens, tonight has made me realize one thing: I really missed having Ryan Howard in the lineup.