PHOENIX -- Ryan Howard had his Kirk Gibson moment. The first baseman, who hadn't started since Sunday, allowing for his sore left quadriceps muscle -- and likely, his mental state -- to mend, was summoned with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning against the D-backs on Wednesday. Swinging at the first pitch from reliever Brandon Medders, Howard turned a three-run deficit and a dominating effort by Randy Johnson into an eventual 9-3 romp at Chase Field, allowing the Phillies to salvage the final game of a disappointing 4-6 road trip.
"It felt great," Howard said of his line-drive shot that cleared the right-field fence. "Being able to come off the bench after not playing for a couple of days, being hurt and having the season start off the way [it has], this was a relief." Said teammate Shane Victorino: "Hopefully, this wakes him up. That was definitely a big hit. He's been struggling, and to come up in a situation where we really needed him [was big]." Howard's struggles have been well documented, as the reigning National League Most Valuable Player entered the game batting .198. He had been even worse in May, recording two hits in 19 at-bats for a .105 average. He's now 3-for-21. The good news: The three hits have all been home runs. The third prompted jubilation from the visitors' dugout, as his teammates shared in the slugger's giant exhale. Not tempted to pump his fist, a la Gibson in the 1988 World Series, Howard's teammates could sense this may be the start of something. "He was really scuffling," Aaron Rowand said. Said starter Jamie Moyer: "It not only can lift his spirits, but it can lift the club's spirits, too. You can't rely on one player to carry a team for the whole season, but that was a clutch at-bat right there." In one swing on the first pitch Howard saw, news of Johnson's early domination became a footnote. The lefty had been slowed by offseason back surgery and was making his fourth start this season. Any excitement the Phillies had in seeing an 0-2 record and a 6.50 ERA turned to horror when Johnson began by striking out the first six Phillies and breezed through the first six innings, having allowed three hits and no walks. He fanned nine. "He came out like a bull today," Victorino said. "He was painted the inner half at 94, 95 [mph] and his slider was working. It felt like I might as well go up there without a bat." Johnson wore down and started the seventh by allowing a single to Rowand, hitting Chase Utley and walking Pat Burrell. Just like that, D-backs manager Bob Melvin went to Medders. "We dodged a couple of bullets and hung in long enough until he got tired," Jimmy Rollins said. "I wasn't sad to see him go. He was on a mission today." Manager Charlie Manuel countered with Howard, knowing Medders would have to face him. "That's exactly the matchup we wanted," Manuel said. "If there ever was a place where we were going to use him, it had to be right there. The dugout was pumped up. When it's all said and done, Ryan's going to have a tremendous year for us." A Conor Jackson error helped the Phillies score two more runs in the eighth, with Michael Bourn driving in the second of those runs with a single. Loose and eager, the Phillies iced the game with three more runs in the ninth. In victory, the Phillies helped Moyer avenge a defeat at the hands of Johnson, though he had to wait 17 years and 238 days since their last meeting on Sept. 21, 1989. The gap between duels is the longest in baseball history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. At a combined 88 years and 48 days, the pitching matchup also became the oldest for two left-handed starters. Though Medders, not Johnson, took the loss, the important thing is that Moyer survived to get the win. "I'll take it," Moyer said with a laugh. At 44, Moyer is the oldest pitcher in the Major Leagues until Roger Clemens makes his debut for the Yankees. The crafty veteran surrendered two solo home runs and a single run in the third, but survived his way through seven innings. Moyer took a big-picture look at this road trip, and at the season's first six weeks. "We were in a lot of games on this road trip, but unfortunately a lot of things didn't go our way," Moyer said. "If you look back at the first six weeks of the season, we haven't won a lot of one-run games. We are a good team, but we'd be a better team if we were winning the majority of those one-run games." Said Howard: "What you take from this game is that we got a win. Now, we want to build on that."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.