Howard blasted a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth inning of Saturday's Game 1 of the National League Division Series, propelling the Phillies to an 11-6 come-from-behind win and making him the toast of the town, at least for one night.
The homer -- Howard's first in the playoffs since 2009 -- was the only hit of the game for the Phillies' first baseman, but he added an RBI on a sacrifice fly an inning later to pass teammate Shane Victorino for Philadelphia's all-time lead in postseason RBIs with 31.
"I knew that people were probably going to say whatever, but I left last year in the past, and this is a completely new year," said Howard, who didn't drive in a run in 23 playoff at-bats a year ago. "You can't bring what happened last year into this year, so for me, it was a fresh start to be able to come out and try to do what I can help my team win the game."
Spin to Win
Howard's homer capped a scintillating at-bat against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, who fed Howard a steady diet of changeups before leaving one high and over the plate. Howard turned on it and sent it high into the air and off the façade of the second deck in right field to send Citizens Bank Park into a towel-waving frenzy.
"That was a tremendous at-bat," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Howard and Lohse battled for eight pitches, with Howard fouling off three. Lohse alternated between sinkers and changeups the first five pitches of the at-bat, before getting Howard to foul off a pair of changeups.
"With Howard, I'm being careful," Lohse said. "He fouled off a really good changeup earlier in the at-bat, and I just was trying to come back with the same pitch, and I just hung it."
Lohse was very cautious with Howard in the fourth, walking him on four pitches with two outs and a runner at second base. He didn't have the luxury of an open base when Howard came to bat in the sixth and the Cardinals holding a tenuous 3-1 lead.
"But I told myself, 'A walk's not the end of the world right here,'" Lohse said. "I was just trying to bury the changeup, and it just didn't go down there. I missed with two pitches it felt like all night, and it cost us."
Howard was prepared to keep the at-bat alive and foul off another pitch had Lohse not hung his changeup on 3-2.
"I knew that he was going to be very careful in that situation, with Shane coming up behind me, and didn't want to make a mistake," Howard said. "Actually, I rattled off a couple of really good pitcher's pitches, and [I] was able to get one to where he just kind of left it hanging and made a good connection with it."
Just before hitting the home run, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina went to the mound to talk strategy with Lohse, a moment that signified the importance of the situation for the Redbirds and Lohse. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said he didn't consider bringing in a lefty to face Howard.
"I know Howard is a real tough matchup, and he did what we did the rest of the night, got a ball in the middle of the strike zone for his first home run," La Russa said.
Howard's eighth career postseason home run got the party started for the Phillies and earned him the first of what he hopes is many October curtain calls.
"They were trying to get me to chase a couple of pitches, maybe roll something over," Howard said. "But I was able to actually foul off two really good changeups, and he left one hanging."