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April 29, 2016

Phillies 4, Indians 3: Howard's walk-off homer wins it in extras

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042916_Howard-homer_AP Derik Hamilton/AP

Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard hits a walkoff home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning off Cleveland Indians reliever Cody Allen.

For a minute there, it felt a bit like 2008 at Citizens Bank Park. Well, as much as it can these days, anyway.

Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, the World F@#%&^% Champions’ final two holdovers, got on base a combined five times, the last of which was a walk-off homer by "The Big Piece" in the 11th inning.

And on a cold, dreary Friday evening in South Philadelphia, the Phillies took the first game of a rare visit from the Cleveland Indians, 4-3. The Phils continued their surprising April, upping their record to 13-10 in the process.

After the game, Howard, who is hitting .214 with five homers, wasn't feeling overly nostalgic.

"I think you savor it at any moment of your career," he said after hitting his sixth career walk-off homer. "Whether you're a rookie, whether you're a veteran, those are always great situations to be able to come through like that for your team. It's always a great feeling."

Ryan Howard, April 29th, 2016 from Rich Hofmann on Vimeo.

The teams split six runs in the fifth inning. Howard and Ruiz hit back-to-back opposite field doubles off former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to kickstart a three-run Phillies rally.

How did the Phils dig a three-run hole in the first place? Not totally unexpectedly, Adam Morgan started to find trouble the third time through the Indians order.

After allowing a two-out double to Kluber (although left fielder David Lough botched a real chance at throwing the pitcher out at second base), Morgan couldn’t put the speedy Rajai Davis away. Davis singled home Kluber and Jason Kipnis, the next batter, golfed a pitch into the right field seats.

"I felt like I fell behind, a lot of pitches in the first couple innings," Morgan said. "And then 0-2 pitches [in the fifth] were too good [to hit]."

Lough made up for his misplay in the field with an RBI single later in the inning that helped take Morgan off the hook for the loss. Making his 2016 major league debut, the 26-year-old right-hander’s final line looked like this: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, and a career-high 7 Ks.

"Morgan did a pretty decent job," Pete Mackanin said. "He made a mistake, that home run, but in other ballparks it wouldn't have been a home run."

Haddon Heights native Andrew Bailey, making his first start at home as a member of his hometown team, pitched two strong scoreless innings in relief of Morgan. Entering in the sixth inning, he struck out the first four batters he faced, showcasing a fastball that generally sat around 92 mph as well as a sharp breaking ball.

Bailey struck out the side for the first time since April 24th, 2013, when he was pitching for the Boston Red Sox. The relievers deserve a lot of credit for this win: Bailey combined with Elvis Araujo, Hector Neris, and David Hernandez to throw six scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

"Our bullpen has been unbelievable," Mackanin said. "What did we strike out, 18 today? Fantastic. What can you say?"

Phillies pitching (which lead the MLB in Ks coming into the game) continued to showcase swing-and-miss stuff, totaling a season-high 18 strikeouts.

The Phils had chances to end this one earlier than they ended up doing. In the 10th inning, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco stranded the bases loaded with one and two outs, respectively. After Hernandez pitched a second scoreless inning, Howard led off the bottom of the 11th.

"It's always fun when you win those games," Mackanin said. "Howie came up big. He was kind of overdue, you kind of expect it from him quite often. It was huge to come through like that."

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann