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Howard homers to end drought, lead Phils

Howard homers to end drought, lead Phils

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LOS ANGELES -- September is Ryan Howard's month.

Always has been.

He got started a little early Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, where he crushed a three-run home run to center field in the third inning in an 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The victory kept the Phillies three games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the NL Wild Card race.

Howard's homer came on the last day of August, but Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer made an interesting observation to Howard that it also came about an hour before the clocks turned to September in Philadelphia, which is three hours ahead of Los Angeles.

Not quite September, but pretty close.

In 162 regular-season games in September and October in his career, Howard has hit .314 with 52 homers and 141 RBIs. Howard's next best month is July, but he makes July look like a slump. His batting average is 19 points higher in September (.314) than July (.295). His on-base percentage is 32 points higher (.426 to .394), his slugging percentage is 98 points higher (.686 to .588) and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage is 129 points higher (1.112 to .983).

"I don't know. There's the saying the season is a marathon," said Howard, trying to explain his September success. "You want to try to be strong at the end of the race, and kick it in during the home stretch."

Howard has been searching for his swing since he missed 16 games because of a stint on the disabled list with a sprained left ankle. He had hit .108 (4-for-37) with one RBI, one walk and 16 strikeouts before he crushed a 1-0 fastball from Dodgers reliever Ramon Troncoso into the stands. It was Howard's first home run and extra-base hit since July 27.

What clicked?

"The ball with my bat," Howard joked.

But what did he hope clicked looking forward?

"I felt like I've had some good at-bats and good swings over the last five, six games," Howard said. "I've just been hitting balls right at people. I was able to just get one, connect and get it over everybody I guess."

"It looked like the ball was a little bit away from him and he drove it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's good to see. He's got to get going. We need him to get going."

Howard wasn't alone Tuesday. Brian Schneider hit a three-run home run to right field -- it had a slight resemblance to Matt Stairs' towering home run in Game 4 of the 2008 NL Championship Series -- and Carlos Ruiz hit a two-out, pinch-hit single with the bases loaded against Dodgers right-hander Jonathan Broxton to score two runs to give the Phillies an 8-4 lead.

Ruiz is 4-for-4 with three doubles and six RBIs in his career against Broxton.

"He got behind 2-0 with the bases loaded," Ruiz said. "I told myself I had to be ready for the fastball. Don't miss it. I put a good swing on it, and got a hit."

Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick allowed seven hits and four runs in five innings. He has a 6.41 ERA in his last five starts. He had a 1.86 ERA in three starts before that.

"It's just pitch location," Kendrick said. "When I'm missing I'm missing up and down the middle."

"That's about what he gives you," Manuel said. "If he gives you seven innings, that's real good for him."

But Tuesday must have been an encouraging sign for the offense. The Phillies hit two three-run home runs in a game for the first time since June 29 in Cincinnati, when Schneider and Wilson Valdez accomplished the feat. Chase Utley went 2-for-4. He had hit .184 (9-for-49) with two doubles and four RBIs in his first 13 games since being activated from the disabled list following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb.

The key for Howard and Utley is getting their timing back.

But at least Howard has history on his side. He hopes September started early Tuesday.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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