ST. LOUIS - Ryan Howard has gotten a taste of all his favorites during this trip to his hometown.
"A little bit of everything," he said. "Had some toasted ravioli. Had some Chinese food. Had my pizza the other day. I guess you could say it's a little bit of home cooking."
Howard was raised in the St. Louis suburbs and while the annual trip to town pleases the foodie in him, it excites him more as a ballplayer.
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Nothing brings Howard's bat alive more than a visit to Busch Stadium.
He smacked his 12th career home run in the ballpark Tuesday night. It was the only run in the Phillies' 1-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. It was his 40th RBI in 36 career games at Busch Stadium. His OPS in the park is 1.096. Tuesday night's homer helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola on a night when he extended his scoreless innings streak to 20 and Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez continued to dazzle out of the bullpen (see game story).
Despite scoring a majors-low 3.19 runs per game, the surprising Phillies have won 10 of their last 12 games to come out of the gate at 16-11. This run has been led by the pitching. Tuesday night's win was the staff's sixth shutout. Last season, the Phils did not record their sixth shutout until Sept. 8 and they had just seven the entire season.
Age and injuries have taken a toll on Howard and he is not close to the player he was in his prime. His .190 batting average, .672 OPS and 32 strikeouts confirm that. But in brief, explosive moments he's had an impact on the Phillies' hot start.
The Phillies' first shutout win of the season came on April 9 when Vince Velasquez introduced himself in a 1-0 win against the Mets at Citi Field. Howard provided the offense with a solo homer.
On Friday night, the Phillies kicked off a weekend homestand against Cleveland with a 4-3 win in 11 innings. They won it on Howard's walk-off homer in the 11th.
In between these big hits have been long cold spells and a lot of strikeouts. Indeed, Howard was hitless with nine strikeouts in 12 at-bats before his solo homer Tuesday night. It would have been a meaningless home run the night before when the Cardinals were bashing Phillies' pitching on their way to a 10-3 win. But on a night when the Phils' pitching kept the game close - as it has so many nights this season - Howard's big blow was a difference-maker.
"Howie always hits the ball well here," manager Pete Mackanin said. "It was good to see him bust out with a home run. For some reason, some guys hit well in certain ballparks and you can count on him to hit well here."
It isn't just Busch Stadium that has brought out the best in Howard. Just seeing a Cardinals uniform in the other dugout can do the trick.
His overall career numbers against the Cardinals: .336, 22 homers, 66 RBIs, 1.095 OPS in 66 games.
After Tuesday night's win, Howard praised Nola - "He's outstanding" - and credited rightfielder Peter Bourjos for saving a run in a close game.
Howard's sixth homer of the season was pretty big, too. And it wasn't all that surprising given the venue.
"It's always good to be able to come home and play," Howard said. "This is home, where it all began for me. You get to play against a team you grew up watching."