The Phillies will wake up Sunday morning a half-game behind the Padres in the National League Wild Card, after San Diego fell to Colorado, 6-2.
The Phillies also kept pace with the victorious Mets, remaining 1 1/2 games back in the NL East.
"That's what baseball is all about," manager Charlie Manuel said. "You can have a long night, and in one swing, become a hero. That's what happens when you don't give in."
Howard conceded that he hadn't given himself much of a chance in his previous four at-bats, striking out once looking and three times swinging. In his fifth at-bat, against Chris Schroder, Howard took a strike on the outside corner, a ball outside, and missed another outside pitch for strike two. Two foul balls later, he found a pitch he liked.
"It was a fastball," said Howard, who is hitting .234 in September, with 34 strikeouts. "I was trying to battle, basically swing at anything close. I had trouble trying to pull the trigger earlier in the game. In that situation, I told myself it wasn't going to happen again."
Chase Utley singled and Pat Burrell walked to set up Howard's sharp single, and the Phillies added two more runs to pad the lead. Utley had given the Phils a 1-0 lead with a first-inning homer off Tim Redding.
While the Mets and Padres remain in control of their respective fates, the Phillies aren't going away. Smelling its first postseason appearance since 1993, Philadelphia has won 10 of 11 games.
Aaron Rowand, who has long felt he should catch every ball in his zip code, nearly cost the Phillies in the seventh, on a risky decision to charge Brian Schneider's sinking line drive. The ball hit the grass just below his outstretched glove and rolled to the wall. Schneider made it to third on a play that was scored a single and two-base error, the Phillies' third miscue of the game.
Reliever J.C. Romero, working for the fifth straight day, walked pinch-hitter Tony Batista, then recovered to get Nook Logan to line to shortstop Jimmy Rollins for the first out.
With the Phils' infield playing in, Felipe Lopez hit a grounder to Utley, who threw home to retire pinch-runner Cristian Guzman, though the replay showed he was safe.
Geoff Geary came in and whiffed Ryan Zimmerman to end the threat.
Back in the fifth, Rowand's hustle came up huge, when he tracked a Lopez liner. A miss there would've tied the game.
"I knew he hit it good, but with Ro out there, you never know," Kendrick said. "It could've been a tie game right there."
Kendrick, normally a calm customer, showed emotion after that play, high-fiving his center fielder.
"Every game is huge right now," Kendrick said. "There aren't many left on the schedule. All we can do is win and give ourselves a chance."
Phillies fans are smelling playoffs, too. A large contingent of the announced 26,412 were wearing red, and they loudly chanted for the Phils during their methodical 10th-inning rally.