SAN DIEGO -- For one night anyway, Ryan Howard destroyed the notion of PETCO Park as a pitcher's haven. Pitcher's park? What pitcher's park? The percolating National League MVP clubbed two monster home runs to the deepest parts of the cavernous yard, paving the way for a 12-4 win over the Padres, and assuring the Phillies of at least a split of the four-game series in San Diego.
Howard drove in five runs as the Phillies tied for the most runs scored at PETCO this season, and pulled Philadelphia with five games of the Mets in the NL East. "There's only one pitcher's park in America, and they don't have a baseball field there. It's somewhere in Arizona," said Jimmy Rollins, referring to the Grand Canyon. "And I wouldn't be surprised if he went and knocked that wall down, too." Howard's first homer came on one of the two hittable pitches received in that at-bat from starter David Wells (5-6), after the veteran tried to stay down and away. Wells and center fielder Mike Cameron incorrectly thought the park would stay true to its reputation, but the ball sailed over the 396-foot sign. "I thought it was a fly ball," Wells said. "He's a big, strong kid. It was a good pitch. I thought Cammy had a chance. He's legit. He's got a good swing." That homer gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead, allowing Jamie Moyer (8-8) an early cushion. The second poke made the first seem puny, heading well over the "The Diamond Source" sign in left-center field, and above the 401-feet sign. Some pitcher's park. "He shrunk it a little bit," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It doesn't matter where Howard plays." Typically, no, when the MVP is as hot as he appears. He's clubbed five homers in three games on this road trip and is batting .311 since returning from the disabled list on May 25. His 56 RBIs in that stretch are more than any Major League hitter in the same period, and his average vs. southpaws jumped 20 points to .231. He has 12 homers and 32 RBIs against lefties this season. "You're talking about a prolific power hitter," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He does that to a lot of pitchers. It's just one of those nights where he showed his ability -- this is what he does." "He's just bigger and stronger than most guys," Manuel said. "It took him a little while last year to get going on lefties. Once he finds his stroke and stays up on the middle of the field, that's when he hits 'em good. A lot of his homers come from center to left. That's because he stays on the ball and he puts a stronger swing on the ball." Howard, as always, maintains that his increasing pace vs. southpaws is attributed to more repetitions. He said he doesn't see as many during Spring Training as in the regular season, when teams line up lefty starters for the Phillies and relievers for the late innings. He hit .279 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs against lefties last season, when he won the National League MVP Award. He offered that his comfort level is increasing. The numbers prove it: He and teammate Chase Utley -- who went 2-for-4 -- are Nos. 1 and 2 in RBIs in the league vs. lefty pitchers. Those performances helped the Phillies continue an upward trend of success vs. southpaws. After beginning the season 6-15 vs. against lefties, the Phillies have won seven of their last 11. "Sick. When I first got called up and struggled against lefties, the first thing people said was that he can't hit lefties," Howard said. "It's cool that we're first and second. You go through those periods where you're going to struggle. The swing is starting to come along, and I'm feeling better at the plate." Howard gorging himself at the plate made life easier for Jamie Moyer, who shook off three poor outings to limit the Padres to four runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. The lefty logged a season-high 122 pitches. After logging a 10.06 ERA in his previous three outings, Moyer said he shook up his routine, doing the same things, but on different days, thus tricking his 44-year-old body. "I felt pretty good tonight, strength-wise and arm-strength wise," Moyer said. "I felt as strong tonight as I felt in a while. They hit a number of balls hard, but hit 'em at people, except for the one [Milton] Bradley hit [for a home run]. We scored runs early, which was a nice little cushion." Bradley's homer came in the seventh inning, and Moyer responded by getting lefty Adrian Gonzalez on a comebacker. Already at a season-high 116 pitches, Manuel went out for a meeting with Moyer, and the veteran convinced Manuel to let him face one more hitter. "Before I got up on the mound, he goes, 'I'm all right,'" Manuel said. "He said it kind of strong. If he gave me a weak 'I'm all right,' I would've hooked him. I trust him. He knows how he feels. I don't. He's earned that right.' When Moyer walked Cameron on six pitches, Jose Mesa finished the inning, and Tom Gordon and Clay Condrey took it from there. Asked earlier this week whether Manuel would like his NL-leading offense to play in spacious PETCO Park for 81 games a season, he laughed and said, "Sure." "Big deal," he said. "You hit it, you get it." Ask Ryan Howard.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.