WASHINGTON -- At 8:04 p.m. ET, Ryan Howard just obliterated a pitch. By the time officials at Washington Reagan Airport recorded its flight path, the ball had fallen from the chilly air toward the purple seats in section 461 at RFK Stadium. A few feet higher, and it would've been considered a hostile flying object in restricted D.C. airspace. Howard's 49th homer -- snapping a club single-season record he shared with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt -- clanged off an empty seat, bounced a section to the left and dropped to the field, where it was retrieved and tossed to the visitors' dugout. The ball eventually will rest in a trophy case that already contains a National League Rookie of the Year Award, Home Run Derby trophy and potentially an NL Most Valuable Player Award.
"That had lift," Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. "It kept going. He's a special player, and legit." The homer ended the suspense of when Howard would set the franchise's single-season mark, as it came two days after he tied Schmidt. With 29 games left, it remains to see how far Howard will go. In section 463, two over from where the ball first hit, two chilly Philly fans held up a sign that read "Howard: Hit it here!" He almost did in destroying a high 2-2 fastball from Washington's Pedro Astacio. The homer tied the game at 2, the 25th time that one of his shots either tied a game or gave the Phils the lead. After reaching the 40-homer plateau on Aug. 12, Howard charged to 49 on the final day of the month. He's homered in six of the past eight games, and extended his Major League-leading RBI total to 128, seven more than Schmidt drove in during his NL MVP and record-setting season in 1980. "He's done so much and is having an MVP year," David Dellucci said. "I think we need to congratulate him and make him feel like what he's done has been an incredible feat. The amazing part of it is that he's not hitting wall scrapers. He's hitting balls where very few people have ever gone." Despite the historical significance of his achievement, Howard couldn't enjoy the moment for long. It took him nearly an hour after the game to collect himself after Philadelphia's 6-5, 10-inning loss, a defeat for which he felt responsible. It was Howard's poor flip to Aaron Fultz on a single to Nick Johnson leading off the 10th that led to an eventual game-tying hit and game-ending wild pitch. Had Howard recognized that he still had time, he might not have rushed the throw. The toss went a little high and bounced in front of Fultz, allowing Johnson to reach. While that play may stand, there was also Arthur Rhodes' blown save in the ninth, and Fultz's subpar pitching after Howard's miscue, which was scored a hit. "It was one of those plays where I just rushed it," Howard said. "I thought [Johnson] was further down the line than what he was, and I just rushed it." In a game where the most recent memory matters most, Howard won't remember the ball he hit roughly 450 feet. Instead, he'll relive the toss that didn't go 10 feet. "We're a game out now, and we've been so close," he said. "Hopefully, when the dust clears, we'll be on the other side of it." When the dust clears sometime in October -- or November -- Howard will appreciate the fact that no other Phillie in the 123 years of the organization has hit more homers in a single season, with a total amount yet to be determined. Considering he hit 11 homers after Sept. 1 last season, thoughts of 60 appear logical. "Someday in the offseason, when I look back at this season, it will be special," Howard said. "I try to stay locked in and try to win games. One day I'll wake up and realize what happened." "We can't turn back time [on the loss]," Dellucci said. "That won't be the last game we lose, and hopefully, it won't be the last time he hits a home run. What he did is an unbelievable feat. He should be recognized for what he's done for this team. Sooner or later, he'll get the attention and the appreciation that he needs."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.