Howard continued to say the cramp was his hamstring, and had nothing to do with the left quadriceps muscle that recently forced him to the disabled list. Repeat: Nothing. He stabbed a bounding liner by Alberto Callaspo and landed awkwardly on his left leg. Rolling over on his 256-pound frame, he threw wildly to Clay Condrey, who was covering first. Howard was charged with an error.
The big guy tried to massage himself through the next batter, stretching between pitches and favoring the leg. After Miguel Montero singled, Howard limped off the field and was replaced by Wes Helms.
"My hamstring cramped up when I tried to get up and make the play," he said. "That's why I couldn't make an accurate throw. A good play gone bad. My leg is fine. I just got up and tried to stretch it out."
"He can play," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's fine."
Howard contributed little to a game in which the Phillies got down early and stayed down. In dropping a second straight game to Arizona, Philadelphia couldn't sustain a pair of five-run innings, and now risk being swept in their return to Citizens Bank Park.
The sloppy loss featured three errors by the home team, and sapped a chunk of the momentum generated by a sweep in Atlanta that pushed Philadelphia two games above .500. The losses returned the Phillies to even.
"I'm bitter," Shane Victorino said. "I'm as disappointed as anyone else. It's not even a question that should be asked. I'm bitter to do as well as we did in Atlanta and then come home and start the way we did."
Jon Lieber (2-3) coughed up the first five runs, in a second inning that featured seven of the 13 hits he surrendered, matching his highest total allowed as a Phillie. He also surrendered that many on July 31, when he admitted he was affected by the barrage of trade rumors.
Stephen Drew began the frame by singling and scoring, and ended it by flying out. Between that, Chris Young (double), Montero (single), Eric Byrnes (single), Conor Jackson (double), Orlando Hudson (single) and Mark Reynolds (double) smacked line drives off Lieber, giving him little room to breath.
The Montero single stands out as a turning point of the game, since it may have been aided by an interesting decision by Manuel. With one run already in, on a sacrifice fly by Callaspo, and Chris Young on third, Manuel brought the infield in with Montero at the plate. A .211 hitter, Montero is batting .194 vs. righties, and Manuel wanted to try and cut off a second run.
In watching Montero, he noticed that the young catcher hit a lot of ground balls to the right side.
Bucking his usual trend, Manuel brought the infield in.
"I usually don't do that, but I did it because the pitcher was coming up next, and I was thinking I didn't want to give up a second run," he said. "Even if he got a hit, we'd could get the pitcher out and it's two outs and a man on first."
It couldn't have worked out worse for the Phillies. Montero grounded to the right side, as Manuel guessed, but it trickled through to right field. Utley may have recorded the out if he was playing back. Four more hits later, and the Diamondbacks captured a 5-0 lead.
Lieber settled down after that, retiring 14 of the next 17 Diamondbacks, leaving with two on and two out in the seventh. Shoddy defense added five more runs to Arizona's tally in the eighth, putting the game out of the reach. Drew had the big hit with a triple off Geoff Geary. All five of those runs were unearned.
Those runs hurt because the Phillies had pulled to within 5-3 in the seventh, when Chase Utley laced a two-run single. Howard walked to bring up Pat Burrell as the go-ahead run, but the struggling left-fielder bounced into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. He has one hit in his previous 21 at-bats.
Micah Owings got the win for the Diamondbacks, surviving five innings, and allowing one earned run.
The Phillies forced him to throw 106 pitches, but it didn't matter.
"We had chances," Manuel said. "We just didn't get it done. That's frustrating, but at the same time, we have to beat them tomorrow. No one likes to play like we did tonight."