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October 02, 2016

Phillies send Howard out with season-ending win over Mets

Prior to the final game of the 2016 season, the Phillies honored some of their ballpark operation employees on the field. It’s a Citizens Bank Park tradition, making sure the people behind the scenes get some recognition for the work they do behind the scenes, improving the game experience for the people who come through the turnstiles.

When the short ceremony was over, a special video highlight video began to play on Phanavision. On a gray October afternoon, when their bags were packed for various destinations before the end of the night, the 40-some men inside the home dugout had their eyes transfixed on the screen.

The greatest hits of one of the best players to ever wear their uniform were playing. And it just so happened that that player was with them, watching from the front end of that dugout, trying to keep his emotions from spilling onto the field.

Ryan Howard, the home run hero who created many memories during 13 years at the cozy South Philadelphia ballpark, and the last link to the 2008 World Series champion team, played in his final game in a Phillies uniform.

He was celebrated before the game, with an emotional 15-minute ceremony that included his teenage son, Darian. He choked back tears as he thanked the Phillies, the fans, and the city of Philadelphia.

“I’ve grown with all of you,” Howard said. “My family has grown with all of you.”

And then he wrapped it up thanking them again “from the bottom of my heart” and reminded them he still had to play a game.

Howard was hitless in four at-bats in that game, but the lovefest between the slugger and the only major league city he’s every called home as a professional throughout the afternoon, with more ovations and curtain calls. Howard’s teammates honored their teammate, too, sending his out with a victory, coming from behind to take a 5-2 victory over the New York Mets.

"Today is a day I'll definitely remember," he told the crowd after the game. "Philadelphia will always be home."

Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, and Andres Blanco combined for eight hits as the Phils finished their 2016 campaign with a win, snapping a six-game losing streak.

With the Phillies trailing by a run, Andres Blanco singled and stole a base to begin the seventh. Two batters later, Hernandez ripped a go-ahead single to center and the Phillies were on their way to a win.

Howard got one final chance to hit in the bottom of the eighth. He looked to the dugout and shook his head in disgust after swinging at the first pitch and popping it up to short.

After taking his position in the next half inning, but before Hector Neris would throw the first pitch of the ninth, Howard was greeted by Tommy Joseph. The rookie first baseman hugged the veteran.

Howard exited the game to a standing ovation. Everyone in the ballpark, even the 40-some people in the Mets dugout, were standing and applauding.

After getting hugs from everyone inside his own dugout, Howard popped out of the Citizens Bank Park dugout for one final time and doffed his cap to the adoring crowd.

With the possible exception of Tommy Joseph, who was removed from the roster 11 months ago and was working out in minor league camp in spring training only to quickly work his way onto the radar and bash 21 home runs, Jerad Eickhoff has been the single most encouraging development of the 2016 season.

Eickhoff, one of the five prospects the Phillies received from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade, held the Mets to one run on four hits in six innings on Sunday. He struck out eight and walked one.

Eickhoff, 26, began the season as a pitcher with all of eight big league starts to his name. He ended 2016 as a durable and dependable force to lead the young and uncertain starting rotation going forward.

A rain delay earlier this week probably prevented Eickhoff from reaching the 200-inning plateau in his first full major league season. But Eickhoff was able to pitch six innings or more in 23 of his 33 starts this season and he allowed three earned runs or fewer in 27 of his 33 starts.

Before the game, Mackanin was asked if Eickhoff has shown enough to be the veteran presence in next year’s rotation (which, theoretically, would mean the front office wouldn’t have to sign a guy like Jeremy Hellickson or Charlie Morton to fill that role).

“That’s a great observation, seriously, because that’s the way I feel about him,” Mackanin said. “He sets that tone by example just the way he goes out there and competes. He is very reliable. Every time he goes out there I expect him to give you the innings and be competitive. … I think he’s just going to get better. He’s going to be one of those guys who is like a workhorse for you.”

Here’s a fun comparison between Eickhoff and the World Series MVP he was traded for, matching each of their first full big league seasons:

Hamels in 2007: 28 starts, 183 1/3 innings, 3.39 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 177 K, 43 BB, 25 HR.

Eickhoff in 2016: 33 starts, 197 1/3 innings, 3.65 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 167 K, 42 BB, 30 HR.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21