No panic for Howard despite RBI drought

No panic for Howard despite RBI drought

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ryan Howard matched a Major League record by driving in at least one run in each of his first eight postseason games last year. This year, the Phillies' first baseman has gone through his first eight playoff games without recording a single RBI.

Still, even though Chase Utley has also gone through the first five games of this year's National League Championship Series without driving in a run, the Phillies still find themselves returning to Philadelphia in position to claim two consecutive wins over the Giants and advance to a third consecutive World Series.

"Right now, it's really all about wins," Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez said. "It's about winning the game. It's about everybody pulling together collectively. It doesn't matter how you get runs, really. It's really all about the team."

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to win a best-of-seven series without getting a single RBI from its cleanup hitter was the 1962 Yankees. The great Mickey Mantle served as that cleanup hitter who didn't drive in a run during that year's World Series, which was coincidentally played against the San Francisco Giants.

Howard hasn't necessarily struggled at the plate over the past couple of weeks. He recorded eight hits in his first 24 postseason at-bats (over seven games) this year. The powerful first baseman's worst performance seemed to come during Thursday night's Game 5 win, when he struck out in each of his three at-bats against Tim Lincecum and ended the evening hitless in four at-bats.

"We won," Howard said. "I'll go 0-for-whatever if we win. It doesn't matter. We won."

While there might have been some frustration in Howard's tone when he was asked about the fact that he still hasn't driven in a run this postseason, he wasn't completely distraught about the at-bats he had produced against Lincecum.

"Actually, I felt good," Howard said. "I felt that maybe my timing was just a little bit off. I was actually seeing the ball pretty well. It was just one little thing here and one little thing there. You either miss it or you hit it."

Presented no room for error during the remainder of this best-of-seven series that they trail 3-2, the Phillies are trying to take this "don't panic" approach being utilized by Howard, who has struck out nine times in 17 at-bats during the NLCS.

"That's just the makeup of this team," Howard said. "We're not going to panic. We've somewhat been in these situations before, and I think it's just the experience. We kind of break things down, take it one game at a time and focus on that."

During the final two games of this series, the left-handed-hitting Howard will be challenged by left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who is scheduled to start Saturday's Game 6, and right-hander Matt Cain, if the Phillies are able to force a deciding seventh game.

Howard entered Game 2 with one hit in 11 career at-bats against Sanchez. But he victimized the crafty left-hander with a two-hit performance that included a double.

Against Cain, Howard has recorded three hits in 13 career at-bats. One of those was a single in the three at-bats he notched against the right-hander in the Phils' Game 3 loss.

"It feels good to go back to Philly," Howard said. "Obviously those guys still have the upper hand up three games to two. But all we can do is take it one game at a time."

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