PHILADELPHIA — After the Mets clinched a playoff berth and home field for the National League wild-card game on Saturday with a 5-3 victory over the Phillies, all eyes shift to longtime Phillies slugger Ryan Howard on Sunday afternoon.
Howard said he's not taking anything extra in right now and is only focused on playing baseball, but even his manager knows that's hardly likely.
“He says he's not but I think he's got to,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “It's just human nature. Tomorrow's going to be fun to watch.”
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Howard's two-run homer to tie the game in the fifth inning against the Mets on Saturday could be Howard's last. It moved him into 67th place on the career home run list list, tying him with Jim Rice and Frank Howard with 382.
“It was cool,” Howard said. “Being able to hit the home run and tying the game up. Tried to spoil it for them a little bit today but they got us and you've gotta congratulate those guys because they've scratched and clawed.”
Mackanin said he hopes his first baseman has just a little more left in him for what could be his final game in Phillies pinstripes.
“Hopefully he'll hit another one tomorrow,” he said. “He's been swinging the bat well in the second half to have 25 home runs and almost 60 RBIs. He's been phenomenal.”
The Phillies will celebrate Howard's career before the first pitch tomorrow, but the 36-year old first baseman says it's just another game.
“Tomorrow is Sunday,” Howard said when asked about tomorrow's game. “I'm just going to show up. I'll definitely take it in. I think it'll be something cool.”
The Mets are overjoyed to have the burden of home-field advantage wrapped up. Jay Bruce knows just how important it is to have secured that heading into Sunday.
“Home field means a lot,” he said. “I think home field means a whole lot. I played with Jim Edmonds in 2010 and he said that one play, one pitch can change the outlook of the whole thing and it's so true. I think we have a group of guys who are ready for it.”
The Mets are undecided as to who starts Sunday as it appears they might save right-hander Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA) for Wednesday's wild-card game. The Phillies send right-hander Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) to the hill Sunday.
Mets manager Terry Collins may not put Syndergaard on the hill very long, or at all Sunday.
“We are going to be able to save Noah (Sundergaard),” Collins said. “I'm not sure we're going to pitch him, he might just throw side instead. I just thought it might be good to face some hitters for him tomorrow.”
Eickhoff's start last Tuesday was cut short because of rain as he only pitched four innings against the Braves, but he'll have a chance to punctuate his strong second half in the final game of the season.
Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, who left Friday's game with right hamstring tightness, missed Saturday's game and his season is likely over.