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May 04, 2016

Howard homers again, but Gomez blows first save in loss to Cardinals

Phillies MLB
050416_Gomez-Phillies_AP Bill Boyce/AP

Jeanmar Gomez.was an unflappable member of the Phillies bullpen in 2016, saving 37 games. But he didn't have overpowering stuff and struggled mightily in the season's final six weeks, making him a possible non-tender candidate.

Ryan Howard hit a booming home run on Wednesday night, and right up until the ninth inning, it appeared the Phillies would ride a long ball from the big fella to a one-run victory for the third time in the last six games.

Except the bullpen's ability to cover a one-run lead for multiple innings finally burst. You really didn't expect Jeanmar Gomez to be perfect for the entirety of the season, did you?

Matt Holliday ripped a single into left field with one out, scoring St. Louis's second run in the ninth inning as Gomez couldn't rebound from a leadoff walk and blew his first save opportunity in 10 tries. The Cardinals walked off with a 5-4 win.

It was just the third loss for the Phillies in 12 one-run games this season, and the Phils' first in eight such games.

Frankly, they were due.

The Phillies have scored 23 fewer runs (90) than they’ve allowed (113) this season. Only two other teams in baseball, the Miami Marlins (-7 run differential) and Kansas City Royals (-13), have scored fewer runs than they’ve allowed and also have a winning record.

It’s not impossible to win that way – both the Los Angeles Angels (-14) and Minnesota Twins (-4) scored fewer runs than they allowed last year and finished with winning records – but for a young team relying on a mostly unproven pitching staff, it’s not going to be easy. 

Adam Morgan was cruising along for three innings on Wednesday and then ran into a long, troubling fourth inning. And then he failed to record an out in the fifth inning. And, well, asking any major league bullpen to cover five innings is asking for a lot.

Just as it's unlikely the Phillies will win more than they lose when they score fewer runs than they allow, it's unrealistic to think the bullpen will keep posting zeroes onto the scoreboard.

Colton Murray and Elvis Araujo, however, picked Morgan up in getting the game into the seventh, when the 'pen has regularly taken over for the starters in the majority of games this season. Andrew Bailey (seventh) and Hector Neris (eighth) retired six of the seven batters they faced, continuing to look like perfectly capable set-up men (and future closer candidates?).

Gomez, who had been perfectly fine since jumping into the closer's role, took the ball in the ninth with the Phils up 4-3. He was a perfect 9-for-9 in save chances entering Wednesday and had allowed just one run and had a 1.00 WHIP in those games.

But it's never ideal for any reliever to walk the first batter he faces, and that's what happened on Wednesday when Kolten Wong prevailed in a seven-pitch at-bat with Gomez. After recording an out, Gomez served up a home run booming double off the top of the wall to Matt Adams, put Aledmys Diaz on intentionally to load the bases, and then allowed back-to-back singles. 

Game over.

Before the ninth inning, Ryan Howard's power surge was the story once again.

On Saturday night, it was a walk-off shot in South Philly to beat the Cleveland Indians. On Tuesday, it was a solo home run in a 1-0 win.

Howard ripped a three-run blast in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game, opening up the scoring.

The 36-year-old Howard, who entered the night hitting .190 with a .672 OPS, surely isn’t the player he was a decade ago, when he won the National League MVP. He’s not even the player he was five years ago, when he hit 33 home runs and sported an .835 OPS for the 102-win 2011 Phillies.

But he can still hit home runs and, if he stays healthy, flirt with 30 homers for the first time since that 2011 season, his last before rupturing his Achilles.

How so? Well, Howard has never hit seven home runs this quickly into a season in his 13-year big league career.

On Wednesday, Howard’s seventh home run came in his 27th game of the season. He’s only reached seven home runs in less than his first 30 games into a season two other times, in 2006 and 2012.

Ryan Howard has 7 home runs in 27 games. When he hit his 7th home run in each season of his 13-year career:

 Year Game Number
2006  28
 2008 38
 2009 33
 2011 32
2012 29 
 2014 32
 2016 27

Before Gomez blew his first save, Howard's three-run home run, a solo shot from Odubel Herrera, and two defensive gems from Freddy Galvis and Tyler Goeddel appeared to be enough to give the Phillies another one-run win. It wasn't.

But the defensive plays were still pretty.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21