Howard laughed as he recalled the story.
"They've been hounding me," he said.
Howard is in a pretty good mood because he has had a pretty good couple weeks. He has hit .333 (20-for-60) with three doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 25 RBIs in his last 15 games. He is hitting .268 with 34 homers and 104 RBIs this season, joining Chuck Klein as just the second player in franchise history to have four consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons.
"That's why I call him the Big Piece," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He was the game."
But Howard hardly worked alone. Cliff Lee improved to 5-0 with an 0.68 ERA in five starts with the Phillies. He allowed six hits and two unearned runs and struck out five in seven innings against the Mets to pick up the win.
Howard was the offense. Lee supplied the rest.
Together they were the game, and together they helped the Phillies take three of four from the Mets to maintain at least a seven-game lead over the Braves in the National League East.
"This game is not that easy. It's just not," said Brad Lidge about Lee. "It's pretty amazing. Not a whole lot of guys can say that they've done that over a five-game span. He's throwing eight different things for strikes then he'll sneak 94 [mph] in there from the left side. He's throwing everything he wants to basically every single time. That kind of consistency is very hard to duplicate, no matter if you're in midseason form or not. It's just a lot harder to be that consistent than he's showing. Trust me. I've been trying to figure it out for a couple months. It's hard to get locked in like that and be automatic on every pitch. It's impressive."
Mets right-hander Bobby Parnell threw Howard four consecutive fastballs with two on and one out in the first inning, sneaking the last two fastballs past him for strikes. Howard wouldn't waste the fifth fastball of the at-bat, which he hit for a three-run homer to left. And it wasn't like Howard got full extension, either. He kept his hands inside the ball and used his strength to work the ball out to left field in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
"It got back spin and it kind of took off," Howard said.
Howard had no such problems with his two-run homer to right in the third. He killed that one, giving Lee breathing room.
Lee showed his poise in the first inning. Chase Utley dropped an easy pop fly from Angel Pagan to start the inning. As Pagan raced to second, Utley threw wildly down the left-field line to allow Pagan to score. It was two errors on one play for Utley, the first time in his career he had two errors in a game. Gary Sheffield later tripled and scored on Fernando Tatis' sacrifice fly to center field to make it 3-2.
Had Utley caught Pagan's ball, Tatis would have been the inning's third out. Both runs were unearned.
Lee has won eight consecutive starts, including his final three starts with the Indians. That matches a career high, which he set last season when he won the American League Cy Young Award. He is 8-0 with an 0.97 ERA (seven earned runs in 65 innings) and four complete games in his current streak. He went 8-0 with a 1.85 ERA (13 earned runs in 63 1/3 innings) and two complete games during last year's streak.
"Last year was last year," Lee said. "This year is different. But I feel like I'm making pitches the same or similar."
Lee also became the first pitcher to win his first five starts with the Phillies since Marty Bystrom in 1980.
"I expect to go out there every game and give the team a chance to win," Lee said. "I'm doing what I expect myself. I don't know if I expected it to go this well, but I do expect to be successful every time I take the mound."
Get the Big Piece going with Lee -- perhaps the Biggest Deal made before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline -- and the Phillies are tough to beat.